Schools break up for the year today, families will be travelling, going on outings, visiting relatives and as the month progresses will be going to parties and other gatherings.
Every year the number of road accidents and the number of road deaths peaks in December, a time when more people have a bit of extra money, a bit more free time, more opportunity for fun.
And this year it will be worse, the dark side of a string of prayers and a string of successes by the Government. For a start, the rains have started early, and there will be wet roads, flooded bridges, eroded road shoulders, drivers and cyclists trying to see in heavy rain, and all the other dangers that we all tend to ignore.
We can manage these, by exercising a degree of patience, driving well within the limits imposed by slippery roads, poor vision, pools in difficult areas and sometimes the need on minor roads to just stop and let the water recede on the bridge or ford. We know what to do, but applying that knowledge is necessary.
Then we come to the first of the Government successes, upgrading, renovating and even rebuilding the highways. We all cheer, with justification. And we all enjoy the results, as we should.
But unless we take the speed limits and other aspects of the Highway Code seriously, the decent roads can be a danger to ourselves and others.
A broken up road surface with lumps and potholes at least keeps traffic slow. There will still be accidents, but at much lower and so survivable speeds.
The sort of quality road surfaces we are seeing now encourages the reckless among our drivers to speed and break the limits, simply because they can. The benefits are all positive. The danger is man-made, and made up drivers.
We all know the result of speeding, simply by applying what we learned in the lower forms of high school science. The energy of a moving object is proportional to the square of its velocity, so double speed and you quadruple the energy; triple the speed and you multiply energy by nine; quadruple speeds and you have 16 times the energy. And in an accident that energy is still dissipated almost instantly, so the crash forces increase.
The result is that what is just an irritating fender bender in the traffic jams in an urban rush hour becomes major headlines and a row of coffins when done at speed on the highway.
Another success of the Government that can have a sad side effect is the successful battle against inflation. This means that any pay rise, any bonus, any extra money keeps its value, even when spent on beer and other alcoholic drinks. So some will drink more and then reckon they are the world’s top driver, when in fact they are an accident waiting to happen. And we should not forget the effects of the Government drive to overcome Covid-19. It is not that long ago we were barred from fancy parties and late-night drinking sessions, and now we are not.
So we have to exercise our own responsibilities. We need to remember that a year ago many people were breaking the curfews, but were doing so carefully and discreetly, behaviour that enhanced road safety even if it opened the risks of infection.
Besides these extra December dangers we are still dealing with what has become regrettably a Zimbabwean distaste of following the Highway Code.
Most drivers, at least when traffic is on the lighter side, will not stop at red lights or Stop signs, will not give way when supposed to do so, and have forgotten that at uncontrolled intersections they are expected to give way to traffic approaching from the right.
Drivers also tend to follow the car in front far too closely, and too closely to stop in time if that cat suddenly brakes or hits someone else.
None of this is necessary. The Highway Code is not something we read when we are preparing for a provisional licence so we can learn to drive. It is supposed to be a driver’s “bible” and should be treated the same way as a committed church-goer treats their bible, as something that needs to be read and reread. In any case revisions and updates come out regularly as conditions change and drivers need to keep up to date themselves.
The Zimbabwe Traffic Safety Council and the police both see driver error as the main cause of accidents. There are the odd accidents caused by faulty vehicles, mainly from bad brakes, defunct steering and smooth tyres, but most faults simply stop the vehicle, and force the driver to park on the side of the road while awaiting a tow or an emergency repair.
After every accident the police investigate, and charge and usually fine the driver at fault, and almost always the fault is driving without due care and attention, negligent driving or reckless driving, or committing a statutory offence of failing to stop or driving over the speed limit.
The bulky files in ever police traffic office show that driver error is easily the most serious problem, and almost the only problem.
So the need is get all drivers to obey the law and obey the Highway Code, and that requires enforcement. We do not need one of these blitzes that the police like to organise before and during a public holiday, but rather than continuous pressure against wayward drivers, day in and day out, night in and night out.
This works, as we can see when we look at jurisdictions where traffic laws are enforced. One good example is Britain, where they get a lot of things wrong but, oddly enough believe enforcing traffic rules is one of the most critical duties of police forces.
The result is that with five times the population, and probably 40 times of more the number of vehicles, fewer British die on the roads each year than die on Zimbabwean roads. With enforcement tight, if you have more than one beer and drive the odds are you will caught and lose your licence for a year.
It you go through a red light or a Stop sign you will be probably be caught, be fined and have points added to that total that leads to losing your licence when you have enough.
If you speed some automatic speed trap or hidden police officer will record this, and you will be tracked down and fined, get your points and may even face more serious charges of reckless driving.
So far fewer people commit traffic offences, not because they are more virtuous than Zimbabweans but because their own police will probably catch them.
This attitude is needed in Zimbabwe, and not those sins of omission that were created to gather private fine money until the Second Republic killed the corruption, but the sins of commission, people driving in ways that break the law and create a danger to others on the road.
For the dangerous driver is not just looking to die in an accident, but is a potential killer on the loose, and needs to be treated as such.