Observations: Road traffic accidents and the way forward

By Barbrah Musamba Chama Mumba

Zambia in recent times has seen the rise in fatal accidents some of which have involved public passenger vehicles. There have also been fatal accidents involving smaller vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

In this article, I will look at both the causes and prevention of road accidents including loss of lives after an accident and suggest ways that could help reduce deaths.

Since the beginning of this year there have been some gruesome accidents. One such kind was that of the Postbus killing over 50 people near the Chibombo area and another was a minibus killing 19 people on the Ndola – Kapiri-Mposhi stretch. In both incidences the buses collided with trucks carrying goods.

In August last year, Road Transport and Safety Agency (RATSA) spokesperson Mrs Mercy Mwila-Kazi made a statement that as at July 2012 400 lives had been lost from the beginning of last year, which was a very high number of lives lost in a short period.

She further stated that the RATSA was critically understaffed to perform its duties, and that a report was sent to the Vice President’s office to state the inadequacies of the Agency, hoping that the government did look into it and is working on the findings.

I will highlight a few things that the government should take into consideration so as to help reduce the accidents and carnage that has happened in recent times.

With the number of fatal accidents increasing, there is need for government to urgently look into this so that the loss of lives can be minimised from avoidable accidents.

In the Chibombo accident there has been a general feeling that a dual carriage way should be constructed between Lusaka and the Copperbelt, including other areas that have trunk roads where traffic has increased due to increased commerce and mining activity which has triggered the increase of the number of vehicles on the Zambian roads.

Zambia’s middle class has been growing in the last decade due to a sustained economic growth and this has seen the rise of people owning cars. This is also one other contribution to the increase of vehicles on the Zambian roads.

Whilst, thoughts for the construction of dual carriage ways are welcome, it is a simplistic way of resolving a problem that could have other factors that may cause accidents on the roads. Dual carriage ways are but one of the solutions to easing road accidents.

A commission of inquiry should be set up so that we have a holistic approach to the problem other than an ad hoc one.

Accidents are not only caused by human error but also mechanical failure and the state of the roads.

Some of the human error causes of accidents are over speeding, lack of good judgment, excitement by road users (mostly by young drivers), lack of good sight, drink driving or drunken road users, inexperienced drivers, and lack of concentration when driving.
Other causes of human error could be as a result of age of the driver and drivers not knowing traffic rules as a result of the driver not going through a driving school, among other things.

As regards age, for instance in the Chibombo accident, the driver was reported to be 74 years old at the time of the accident and that he had misjudged the oncoming truck. Was his misjudgement as a result of his age, if so then drivers who attain a certain age should be frequently tested?

Mechanical failure can also cause road accidents these would include the failure of breaks, locked steering wheel, tyre burst and any other failure that could be faulted as having caused the car not to perform as normally.

The state of the vehicle is the other cause of road accidents. There are so many not road worthy vehicles on the Zambian roads. Some of these vehicles need to go to the scrap yard.

There are vehicle that are very old and un-maintained on the roads. Some vehicles have defects that could cause accidents. There should be no compromise when it comes to un-roadworthy vehicles being on the road.

Accidents can be caused by mechanical failure of the vehicle. There is need to strengthen the inspection of vehicles and their suitability to be on the road.

Government should consider giving licences to garages so that they can carry out motor vehicle inspections on behalf of government. Selected garages country wide should carry out inspections according government set standards.

If these garages certify vehicles roadworthy when in fact not then their licences should be revoked and they should be penalised for doing so. This could help ease corruption and also create employment in the private sector. It would ease bureaucracy in getting car certification.

The state of the roads is one major contributing factor to road accidents. Zambia’s trunk roads are too narrow for the many heavy goods vehicles (HGV) now on the Zambian roads and for small vehicles whose speeds have increased over the years, such that, if there is a mistake made or fault by one vehicle there is a very high possibility that the vehicle could hit into an on coming one.

Many of the Zambian roads do not have wide enough hard shoulders so that if a vehicle breaks down it can park on the hard shoulder. Many vehicles especially HGVs break down in the middle of the road thereby rendering a risk to other road users, especially at night when visibility is very limited.

Road recovery services should also be introduced so that broken down vehicles should not be on the road for a long period.

Government has embarked on a project for road rehabilitation, new road construction and reviving the railways which is very good. These projects are long term, of immediate importance is to increase capacity on existing trunk roads to make them motor ways.

The single carriage ways are a danger to the motorist and also slows down traffic if abnormal vehicles are using them.

The aspect of wide hard shoulders should be taken into consideration. Government through RATSA should ensure that speed limits are adhered to by way of increased road patrols and other devices to monitor speed limits.

Road signs and vegetation near roads should constantly be worked on especially during rainy season.

Cyclists and pedestrians should not use highways as a way of connecting from one village to another or they should not come close to the roads by a certain number of meters unless at designated places.

Cyclists should also wear high visibility clothing and their bicycles should have adequate reflectors.

The second part to my article is the loss of life after an accident.

The loss of life after an accident could be attributed to many factors. Lives are sometimes lost after an accident due to lack of emergency services.

People die after an accident due to either shock, loss of blood or severe injuries to the body. Some lives could be saved if there was an effective emergency response unit.

The government should consider creating such a unit that should involve the medics, police, fire fighters and if possible the Zambia Army and or the Zambia Air-force.
Restrictions on number of passengers on public buses should be enforced. It should be done according to the size of the bus.

Some buses are death traps. Most buses have very minimal foam to cover seats and some have metal protruding at seat edges which are dangerous when an accident occurs.

There should also be a limit on people being ferried on open Lorries and vans. Many lives can be saved if a holistic approach is done.