Horrific accidents make headlines with alarming frequency in Zimbabwe. In early March this year, 31 people perished after a Pfochez Yutong Bus burst its front right tyre before side-swiping with a Mercedes Benz Sprinter commuter omnibus at the 232km peg along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway.
The horror crash was declared a national disaster.
Another dreadful accident that occurred on April 15 and also proclaimed a national disaster killed 12 people whilst 45 were injured when an MB Transport bus they were travelling in collided head on with a haulage truck 45km outside Beitbridge town.
These accidents unravel the tragedy and show that Zimbabwe’s roads are fast becoming death snares.
Further, statistics released by the police early this year, indicate that Zimbabwe’s roads have become death traps with an average of 2 000 people dying each year on the roads.
“Every year since 2006, road accident fatalities have increased from a total of 1 037 deaths with the media reports indicating that about five people die on Zimbabwe’s roads daily,” noted the report.
Sadly, traffic-related injuries and fatalities are not only ravaging the country but are also placing undue pressure on inadequate health systems in the country.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank (WB), poorer countries like Zimbabwe are “disproportionately affected” by road traffic injuries and fatalities, which place undue pressure on inadequate health systems and on victims and their families, but also on society, since half of those who die or are disabled are young adults, its most productive segment.
But who is to blame for this “cancer” that is ravaging the country and stalling socio-economic development?
Statistics claim that most road traffic accidents are a direct result of human error.
The Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (Zimstat) noted that widespread disregard for rules coupled with lack of competency by motorists fuel chaos and traffic offences on the country’s roads.
According to figures released by Zimstat for this year’s first quarter, all traffic offences have experienced a sharp increase since 2010 except for drunken driving.
Crediting the Police General Headquarters (PGHQ) as the source of most of these traffic crime statistics countrywide, Zimstat added: “The number of motorists arrested for driving without due care increased from 2 201 in 2010 to 37 419 in 2015 while unlicensed drivers rose to 13 800 last year from 819 in 2010.
“Last year, the number of drivers fined for speeding increased to 34 782 from 24 330 in 2010 while cases involving negligent driving were 5 619 against 209 recorded in 2010.”
Four hundred and eighteen reckless drivers, asserted the Zimstat, were fined in 2015 from 29 drivers arrested for the same offence in 2010.
Zimstat also said: “The number of vehicles recorded for operating without insurance in 2010 was 2 678 while in 2015 the figures rose to 28 033 cases.
“The number of motorists operating vehicles without the Licensing Act increased from 4 356 in 2010 to 42 615 cases last year.”
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), the principal agent in promoting traffic safety, is on record saying most traffic-related injuries and casualties are a result of human error.
“Human error alone, which is quite preventable, contributed 93,4 percent to the cause of last year’s festive season road traffic accidents,” said a TSCZ traffic safety officer.
TSCZ board member Allowance Sango concurs.
“Human mistakes such as failure to give way, speeding, misjudgment, overtaking and reserving errors, following too close, fatigue and negligent pedestrians or cyclists cause traffic-related injuries and fatalities,” he said, adding that lack of safety features in most cars is another behind road death.
Sango, who is also a transport director in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development, says worn tyres, brakes and shock absorbers, cracks and potholes that can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, signs that have fallen or cannot be seen because of overgrown foliage and faded paint markings that are invisible from the driver’s seat are just a few of the unsafe road conditions that can lead to a car crash.
Gift Taderera, a traffic and safety researcher, blames poor road infrastructure as well as reckless driving for the increase in horrific accidents in the country.
“The country is still lagging behind in terms of road infrastructure. Our roads are in poor condition and this is contributing to terrible calamities,” he said.
Sango and Taderera believe there is need for reform if the country is to standardise safety devices, improve vehicle inspections, reform license testing and increase road safety public awareness campaigns to reduce or eliminate road accidents.
“Ending traffic-related accidents requires a holistic approach. For that reason, all stakeholders responsible for maintaining roads and ensuring they are safe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians should join hands and invest in road safety programmes as part of corporate social responsibility portfolios,” said Sango.
Taderera said Zimbabwe needs wide-ranging cooperative efforts if the country is to end traffic-related injuries.
“The Government, as the biggest stakeholder, should source for financial resources and work closely with various agencies in providing proper signage, lighting, pavement markings, signals and traffic control devices,” he added.
As part of reforms, the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) said passengers must have their say towards safety as well as related rights when travelling.
In a statement, Tafadzwa George Goliat, the PAZ president, said: “Road carnage is so serious that we can no longer view as indifferent spectators. We must be involved as actors irrespective of whom we are, we all have a role to play.”
He added: “Passengers must not be passengers to the hilt, they also should ensure that they have a say towards their safety and rights when travelling.
“Passengers must learn to speak out when a driver is speeding or generally not driving according to road rules and regulations.”
- The writer is based in Harare and he writes in his own capacity.