Columnists Features

Can night travel ban bring sanity on our roads?


ROAD traffic accidents have continued claiming many lives in Zambia and in some instances resulting in physical and psychological damage to several victims.
The latest being the Serenje horror in which 22 lives were lost after a Kitwe-bound Marcopolo bus belonging to Power Tools Bus Services coming from Nakonde veered off the road and overturned.
It is believed that the driver failed to negotiate a curve due to excessive speeding.
At the same accident scene a wayward truck plunged into a rescue team of Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), police and Fire Brigade, killing three officers on the spot, bringing the total number of deaths to 25.
The Serenje road horror and many others which have occurred in the recent past are an indication that road safety still remains elusive despite the many intervention measures by RTSA and other stakeholders.
Statistics show a gloomy picture of road safety. For instance, in the third quarter of 2015 it was reported that 8,639 road accidents occurred across the country compared to the 8,266 recorded during the same period of 2014.
This represents an increase of 4.5 percent, a strong indication that the situation on our roads is not getting any better. The report also indicated that 641 lives were lost in the road carnages during the same period.
Going by the number of media reports on accidents, even in the absence of latest compiled statistics one can conclude that road fatalities have continued to rise.
This has raised concern among various stakeholders including Government, hence the proposal to ban night travel by PSV drivers.
Vice-President Inonge Wina disclosed that Government was drafting a statutory instrument which intends to ban public service vehicles from travelling at night.
The statutory instrument is meant to restrict public service vehicles to be moving between 05:00 hours to 19:00 hours.
While Government has solid ground for proposing a ban on night travel by public service vehicles going by the frequency at which lives are being lost, there’s also need to thoroughly consider the implications of such a decision.
This is because we need to be ready for whatever consequences that come with the decision and if possible find ways to mitigate the effects.
Cutting down on the travel hours for public service vehicles will no doubt lead to loss of revenue for public service transporters.
This will also affect the transporters’ ability to sustain their current workforce thereby making job losses inevitable.
We all know that when jobs are lost, especially in the case of sole breadwinners, family sustainability is threatened including access to education and other fundamental services.
With the PSV night travel ban, it will mean all public travel must be done during the day. This coupled with the limited road infrastructure, will no doubt lead to traffic congestion on our highways.
The ban also reduces the frequency at which public service transport can be accessed by the public, thereby creating higher demand for the limited service. The situation is likely to get even worse during school vacations when travel is at its peak. As the system stands now, during vacations people have to book for travel with public transporters, days in advance to secure a seat as buses are usually fully booked.
As demand for intercity public transport increases, the chances of fare hikes also become patent. The hikes are also likely to arise as a way of compensating for the lost hours by public transporters.
The cost of doing business for commuter businessmen and women will definitely go up. For instance, those who get merchandise from Nakonde always use the night to travel and the day to conduct their business. In such instances some businessmen and women, depending on their financial soundness, may avoid paying for lodging by catching the next evening or night bus. But with the ban it will not be possible to escape the lodging costs.
The other likelihood is that we may get to a situation where more people spend nights at intercity bus terminals.
As Government contemplates on issuing the SI, we can draw lessons from Kenya which also effected a ban on night travel in 2014.
In the case of Kenya it was proved that the ban of night travel by public transporters drastically reduced road fatalities.
However, the ban came with side effects such as massive job losses, congestion and price hikes, among others.
It should also be noted that in Kenya the ban was not absolute as transporters who met the requirements laid for travelling at night could still be given licences to operate.
For instance, for a public transporter to be allowed to travel at night they need to hire two drivers per bus, present fresh medical tests on their crew as well as install a fleet management system capable of recording speed and location of the vehicle at any time.
To ensure compliance, the road safety authority in collaboration with the police intensified night-time patrols along all major highways to ensure that only those who have complied with the night-time travel conditions and are licensed conduct night travel.
While night travel poses a greater risk to motorists due to poor visibility, there is also need to look at other factors that contribute to accidents regardless of time, such as over-speeding, use of mobile phones, drink driving, fatigue and road infrastructure, among others.
For instance, the Great North Road, which is known for most fatal accidents, is very narrow and thereby making it difficult for overtaking. And this has been the cause of many accidents on the route.
There is also need to put in place mechanisms of limiting the speed at which public service vehicles move.
RTSA and police should also intensify roadblocks on highways both during the day and at night.
It is proven that enhanced enforcement of traffic rules that have a direct bearing on safety such as speeding and drink driving is a very effective way of achieving substantial improvement in road safety.
Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, should also monitor public transporters to ensure that they adhere to labour laws especially on working hours for drivers as fatigue is also a major cause of accidents.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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