Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
A genuine road safety effort is not having hazardous check points all over the place. It is about smart policing, it is about building wide roads as a priority, it is about placing a higher value on human life.
Recently there was a tragic accident in Kwekwe that claimed 31 lives. It is reported that the President declared the accident a National Disaster.
What that meant was that the State would assist in burying the deceased.
What the data does not focus on is the maimed ones who will neither walk again nor do the things they used to do.
What that datum will never tell you is that some who are not counted among the dead will die a few days later, in a few weeks or even a year down the line from their injuries.
That piece of datum will never disclose that of the survivors, some will be so emotionally and psychologically traumatised that it will affect their relationships with their husbands, wives, children or significant others forever.
The trauma of that accident is life changing, even to those who escaped physically unscathed.
The data will never tell anyone of the nightmares that survivors have to endure, the sense survivor’s guilty and the undiagnosed post traumatic conditions.
As if that was not enough, some have lost the entrepreneurial employer, whose genius was the source of employment for a significant number of people.
Some now have no clue where their next fees, meal, clothes or shelter is going to come from.
The landlord might be sympathetic for a month, but on the second month they will start asking someone to make alternative accommodation arrangements if they can’t pay rent as the breadwinner is gone.
The landlord will come across as selfish and insensitive.
But aren’t you expecting too much from a fellow human being who has sacrificed a lot to have that house extended so that they can get that income?
After all, they invested their whole three months’ salary they got as a retrenchment package to put up an extra room for extra income.
It is a business after all, so business is business.
So many people face the downstream impact of that accident. Some are already looking ahead.
That reckless driver who was so impatient to speed is now an irrelevant footnote in this tragedy which has a very clear knock-on effect on other people’s socio-economic circumstances.
Those who were left in the Diaspora, expecting the father or mother of the house to return, are now preparing to catch the next flight to go and say good bye to the person they said good bye to at the airport, expecting to be back in two weeks.
The hugs and other affectionate contacts that were exchanged on that day at the airport will be the only enduring memories they will hold in the shrine of their hearts.
If only one person had driven soberly.
Now it’s only memories and wishes.
The reality about accidents is that whenever they happen, except for the freakiest of them all, there is human error involved.
Even if it is a tree falling over a moving car, there is human error involved in not maintaining those trees and having enough hazard perception to cut the ones that now pose a danger to traffic and humans.
That is the reason why some have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to say “accidents happen”.
Rather one should say, “accidents are caused”.
Despite the economic situation in the country, there are clearly more cars than ever before.
One can take up to an hour to cover a short distance along Samora Machel Avenue during peak hours of the day.
And the statistics do not look good either.
In 2008, Zimbabwe reported a total of 16 909 accidents.
By 2012, this had nearly doubled to 29 423.
Of these, 1 987 were killed and 14 527 were injured.
The statistics do not say how seriously the injured victims of the road carnage were.
The total killed is always an under-reported figure because as said earlier, some people die of their injuries later.
Their deaths can miss being recorded.
Having at least 2 000 avoidable deaths on the road and 15 000 avoidable injuries is reckless.
How can these figures be this escalating when there are so many police check points?
Someone might think that there is a direct co-relation between a country’s development and the road traffic accidents as there are more cars on the road.
The reverse is actually true.
The only way this carnage can be countered is not surprisingly through political awareness and will.
This will then cascade down into the right policies and appropriate public campaigns.
The policies must regulate the three: the user of the road, the vehicle and the system itself.
Because accidents are man-made, they are therefore human preventable.
The present focus is too much on policing rather than awareness.
All people are now aware of the ubiquitous check points and that of course they are now aware that some of them are fake.
There are economic savings to be realised if the focus moves from raising cash here and now for consumption to saving lives and property.
Most adults survived crossing the roads because of the safety campaigns which were embedded in the curriculum at primary school.
The attitudes of the nation to speeding, drink driving and other reckless behaviour can benefit a lot from the same model and approach.
The look left, right, then left again and then proceed carefully only when the road is clear seems so obvious now.
It has just become that because it was started on a lot of people very early in life.
Maybe these other attitudes can be modified before they are concretised and stubborn.
Rather than giving licences at O-Level, maybe just make people respect human life from an early stage.
If the insurance industry was paying for all these accidents, it surely would be going broke.
That is one interesting thing.
There is a very strict policing for third part insurance in Zimbabwe.
However, after accidents of the kind that happened in Kwekwe, the State does the right thing of providing basic but decent State-assisted funerals for the victims.
Where are the insurance companies in all this?
What do those insurances everyone is forced to have and deface their windscreens with actually cover?
Of the many close people that this columnist tragically knows who died of accidents in Zimbabwe, none stands out as someone who received a substantial pay out from the insurance cover.
Maybe somebody knows differently because from insurmountable hospital bills to the physio costs at St Giles, all that is normally covered by private money and doesn’t the insurance cover that?
A genuine road safety effort is not having hazardous check points all over the place.
It is about smart policing, it is about building wide roads as a priority, it is about placing a higher value on human life unlike what is happening at the moment.
Talking of money without talking of tollgates would be unfair.
Well, those are there of course.
There is no problem as some of the money goes towards putting up signage on the roads.
The warnings against potential hazards are just not there.
Besides a few deliberately but strategically hidden speed limiting signs on the highways, it is difficult to recall signs warning of sharp curves, animals and any such hazards anymore.
There are ways in policy-making to raise money where the cost is spread across the economy rather than the rent seeking behaviour of police check points.
It has been proved elsewhere that if the levy on fuel tax includes a percentage that goes towards improving roads, it should provide a good source of funds.
The caveat is that it should not be abused.
Then comes those fines. If a percentage again is levied against them and it goes directly towards road safety, then human and material capital will be saved.
How about those hardly ever paying insurance policies?
If a levy which goes directly towards road construction and improvement is attached to every policy, then it will add to the pool of funds for improving road safety.
These financing mechanisms, if added to the toll-fees, which if all are ploughed back into improving road safety, there will be a reduction in people that are dying or are maimed on our roads.
There is no question that most accidents like the Kwekwe one could be avoided by having dual carriageways.
The current dualisation programme is good but is taking way too long. It has taken nearly two decades to just get to Norton from Harare.
One hopes their grandchildren will travel on the dual carriageways to Bulawayo.
At the current, rate, a prudent person would not bet on it.