Home » General » Accidents – We Can, Must Do a Lot More [editorial]

The 2014 festive season looks set to be the bloodiest on record with 86 people already dead in more than 1 000 reported accidents and still a week to go.

The causes are obvious: Speeding, failure to give way, driving under the influence of alcohol, misjudgement and overtaking errors.

Police cannot at present assess the contribution of alcohol to the accident causes since they do not have the correct equipment for quick and easy tests but the other causes appear in accident report after accident report.

To kill a couple of myths, it is necessary to point out that mechanical problems and potholes do not cause more than the odd rare accident. So long as tyres and brakes are adequate, and lights and wipers are working when needed, then any other fault will cause a breakdown, not a crash.

Bad road surfaces simply slow traffic, they do not kill drivers. The problem is the person behind the steering wheel, not the car or the road.

The police are doing a lot to mitigate the tragedy. Almost 100 000 tickets for traffic offences have been issued over the past fortnight, which suggests a lot of drivers routinely break the law as well as that the police are doing a lot, within very limited resources, to do something to stop this.

But a lot of police traffic work is done in the day time, when things are bad enough. As darkness falls everything gets worse. Anyone driving home at night will see people going through red lights, jumping stop signs, racing down highways at well over the limit let alone what is safe at night, swerving to avoid obstacles without caring about oncoming traffic, taking huge risks on overtaking, refusing to dip headlights, and probably driving after having more than one beer.

So we can, and must, do a lot more. The Zimbabwe Traffic Safety Board tries, within a limited budget, to educate road users through the media. Unfortunately a lot of drivers think they know it all and do not listen. So we come down to the police who have a number of problems, the main ones being lack of resources and a perception that too many on traffic duties are bribable.

We acknowledge, and we think most fair-minded people will do the same, that the traffic branch has cleaned up its act a lot over the past year. There are still corrupted police but far fewer and drivers are starting to accept that if they are caught treating a Stop sign as a Give Way, or speed moderately, they have to pay a fine and sign a form. Drivers could end corruption instantly if they insisted on paying a fine or accepting a summons for a court appearance if they dispute the charge, rather than trying to corrupt the police. Paying bribes is as heinous as receiving them. At the same time the police need to be more accommodating over allowing that week to pay a fine and more willing to have their charges tested in court, with drivers having to provide some proof of address or workplace to avoid cheating.

But the branch now needs to think about better deployment of its own staff and those it manages to have seconded to temporary traffic duties by the stations. We have already highlighted a need for more night checks of traffic lights and stop streets, as well as more patrols actually on the road to test headlight use, overtaking procedures and the like.

More equipment is needed. Video cameras are now so cheap that having one at every roadblock and with every team checking observance of traffic signals seems possible a lot of arguments simply evaporate when there is a record. More of those speed detectors would pay for themselves within days. And as we have argued before, having a lot of breathylisers around, and routinely checking any vaguely suspicious driver, will do much to slash the accident rate, especially at night and at weekends, and we suspect that the fines will pay for the initial investment very quickly but more importantly a lot of drivers who cause accidents will be taken off the road for a year.

With more complete enforcement more drivers will start routinely obeying the law. A lot already do but there are so many who take a red light as a personal insult, who fail to do the simple calculation that speeding might save them just two minutes in a city journey or no more than 20 minutes in a drive from Harare to Bulawayo, who fail to understand that at night you have to drive at a speed that allows you to stop within the distance you can see, and who think that six beers make them better drivers. These ones the police need to make see the light before they kill the careful folk.

Source : The Herald