Road Safety – An Oxymoron?

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small cover‘Fifty Three Killed’ screamed the headlines.

And everyone rushed to the scene, shocked!

Yet I am only shocked that it has not happened earlier – these passenger coaches that tear up and down our roads at full throttle, screaming past cars and trucks as if they are on the Formula 1 track. Granted, in this case, it seems that the accident was not caused by either the bus nor the truck. Or at least that’s the story.  But in general, bus drivers seem reluctant to take their foot off the accelerator, apply brakes from time to time and to slow down overall. And as I always tell my staff – if you are involved in an accident you are as much at fault as the person who was in the wrong as you should have been driving in such a manner as to be able to avoid the accident happening.


Just a week before this accident, we had retuned from a trip to Nakonde, amongst other places. On our way up north, leaving Mpika early in the morning, we were plagued by the antics of the Tanzanians truck drivers, something I have complained about before.  On this trip we had two incidents in particular.


The first was in the hills between Mpika and Chinsali.  Having made our way to the brow of the hill, we were making our way down at a reasonable but safe speed when looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a truck thundering down on us, flashing his lights. Pulling almost completely off the road, the truck flew past us, sticking to the middle of the road.  The driver had obviously engaged both his truck and brain in neutral gear.


On the way up next hill, the driver had re-engaged the gears of the truck.  It was not apparent whether he had engaged his brain or not.  But a repeat performance of flashing lights took place on the downside of the hill, where once again truck and brain were in neutral and we were pushed half off the road.  Having taken our photograph, we hung back and let the truck go on his way.


The habit of truck drivers disengaging their gears when going down sleep hills is extremely common but also extremely dangerous.  Many a driver and his (illegal) passengers have been killed when they can not re-engage the gears and lose control of a Fifty Tonne monster on wheels and have no way to stop it.


The second incidence was in the hills near Isoka.  Travelling around a bend on the way down one of the many hills, we came upon two trucks coming up the hill, one of them in our lane.  I was traveling at a safe speed so was easily able to avoid an accident.  But what would the result have been had I had thirty tonnes of cargo pushing me down the hill?


The Great North Road between Mpika and Nakonde is littered with wrecked trucks and buses.  We have written a number of times about the seeming total disregard for road rules and regulations by the majority of the vehicles that ply that route.  Yet we see no improvement. Nor do we see any enforcement agencies out there, enforcing the laws trying to make our roads a safer place.


Without a doubt, we will see RTSA and Zacaria Phiri’s Highway Patrols out in force for the next few months, but then they will dwindle away and we will be back to static road blocks which all drivers approach sedately and safely, and which make absolutely no difference to how the drivers behave out on the open road where these accidents are occurring.  I have many times stopped at these road blocks to complain about the behaviour on the road of a specific bus or truck and asked Zacaria to caution the driver. It’s a pointless exercise because I know that nine times out of ten, Zacaria is not going to do anything about it, but I live in the hope that maybe one officer will take my complaint seriously and that maybe one driver will take the caution seriously.


If we are to stop the unnecessary deaths and injuries that are occurring on our roads, it is time for our law enforcement agencies to get tough and to get out there and enforce the legislation that exists to improve the safety of all travelers on our roads. And the focus must be on ROAD SAFETY not on revenue collection, whether for Government coffers or for the coffers of the individual officers.


We believe it is also time that legislation is enacted that all buses should have the RTSA toll fee number (983 from all networks) painted on the back and front of the vehicle inviting other road users to call RTSA when they see buses behaving on the roads in a dangerous or unsafe manner be it overtaking in a dangerous place, overspeeding (as we call it here) or one of the other innumerable examples of bad driving practise that we see on our roads daily. Passengers on the buses should also be able to call this number if they feel that the driver of the bus in which they are traveling is not driving safely. The drivers of the buses concerned should then in turn be cautioned and repeat offences should result in their licences being withdrawn.


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