THE Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) refuses to issue drivers’ licences to deaf people.
This is despite that evidence shows that deaf people can drive safely and do not pose a threat to other road users, and despite that Zambian law allows deaf drivers who are licensed in other SADC countries to drive in Zambia. This is pure discrimination.
For many people, driving is just a part of daily life that we mostly take for granted. For some people, like taxi drivers or people working in logistics, driving a vehicle is a form of employment; for others, driving a car may be how we get to our place of work.
Learning to drive is a gateway to independence and autonomy for many Zambians – it allows us to go where we want, when we want, and in the company of people we choose.
If you are fortunate to have a car, driving may mean you can transport your children safely to school, visit and help loved ones, take family to the hospital when they urgently need care, and spend time with your significant other en route to wherever you need to go.
For deaf people in Zambia, these daily activities are simply not an option.
RTSA currently interprets and applies the Road Traffic Act No 11 of 2002 to preclude all deaf people from obtaining valid driving licences, irrespective of whether they produce medical certification of their fitness to drive and pass all the requisite tests.
Zambia Deaf Youth and Women (ZDYW), an organisation representing over 20,000 deaf people, has tried for years to engage RTSA and the government on the issue. In effect, RTSA agrees that this situation is unfair.
In written correspondence with ZDYW, RTSA has said that it has proposed that the law be amended to allow deaf people to drive.
And allowing deaf people to obtain drivers’ licences makes sense. Deafness does not in any way limit a person in driving a car safely.
In the many countries where deaf people are permitted to drive, there is no verifiable evidence to suggest that deaf drivers are involved in more accidents or injuries on the road than any other population group.
One study from 2010 suggested that people who are born deaf may even develop better peripheral vision than hearing people, possibly making deaf people more receptive to visual alerts on the road than others.
Many countries across the world and in SADC recognise these facts and issue driving licences to deaf people. Deaf people who get their driving licences in South Africa or Namibia, for example, can legally drive in Zambia even though deaf Zambians may not.
But, despite all this, the promised amendments to the Road Traffic Act have not been forthcoming.
Meanwhile, some ZDYW members have lost their means of income after being denied drivers’ licences, have lost large amount of money in trying to get a licence only to be eventually denied because they are deaf, and have been insulted and demeaned in the process by RTSA officers.
The situation is degrading, humiliating, arbitrary and discriminatory. It violates deaf peoples’ rights under the Constitution and under the Persons with Disabilities Act No 6 of 2012. It is time that RTSA aligns itself with international and regional best practice. It is time that RTSA moves away from decisions founded in stigma and misinformation that leave deaf Zambians as second-class citizens of their own country and of the SADC region as a whole.
Executive director, Zambia Deaf Youth and Women, Kitwe