Over the Easter and Independence holidays, 23 people were killed in road accidents. Causes of these fatal accidents and hundreds of other reported accidents were given by a police spokesperson as: speeding, unsafe overtaking, driver inattention, failure to stop at red lights and Stop signs, and failure to give way when legally required to do so. To this list can almost certainly be added, in at least a significant fraction of accidents, drivers who have excessive blood levels of alcohol, although since the units investigating accidents regrettably are not equipped with the modern and sensitive equipment to detect alcohol levels, the spokesperson could not give this as a contributing factor.
The reasons for the tragedies are those that other traffic safety experts usually list in every country as the cause of all, but a tiny handful of accidents, fatal or otherwise.
At the same time there has been extensive debate in Zimbabwe over police roadblocks, with many complaining that these seemed to be geared towards finding minor infractions of regulations than in trying to reduce death tolls.
We tend to agree. It is unlikely that missing a jack handle or having a number plate light that does not work in daylight will cause an accident, let alone kill anyone. So an extensive mobilisation of resources for such trivial breaches seems misplaced. And it also creates a lot of ill-feeling among the public.
On the other hand there are a minority of police teams who are actively cutting accident rates. These are those ensuring drivers stop at red lights and Stop signs and those who have one of the very few speed measuring radar sets.
Even when these teams are deployed on just one or two random days each week at the selected point, the word gets around and decent safe driving becomes very common. And even those caught committing driving offences might be angry, but they also tend to agree that they were asking for it.
At least in daylight.
There is very little police preventative work at night. As a result speeding is common, especially now that so much work has been done on repairing the main roads. Few drivers stop at red lights or Stop signs and some refuse to even slow down as they enter an intersection against the lights.
And it is highly likely from watching the way some accelerate away from bar car parks, that there are a fair number of night drivers with alcohol levels way above the limit. And there are still too many cars without functioning headlights.
The result is predictable, a high number of serious accidents that lead to serious injuries and death rather than the far less severe rear-end shunts so common in daylight. It has got to the stage that the careful drivers anxious to live now have to stop at all traffic lights, regardless of whether they are green or red, since there is a distinct possibility that a vehicle coming from the side road will simply proceed against the red light at speed.
Far more deployment of traffic units to night work could cut death rates, and if fine income is a factor then anyone watching a main Harare road at say 10pm can easily see that a majority of drivers are committing fineable offences.
All it would take would be a modest redeployment of available manpower and resources.
The result would be a low accident rate and a far more pleasant relationship between the public and police.