Home » General » Zim’s Uninspiring, Soft Traffic Penalties [column]

A CONCERNED magistrate, Mr Tendai Mahwe, notes that cases of public service vehicle (kombi) drivers unlawfully fleeing traffic police are surging. He said this just last week while condemning to prison a mischief-making kombi driver who was involved in a road traffic crash at the intersection of Prince Edward Street and Josiah Chinamano Avenue in Harare while illegally trying to evade a legitimate police order to stop.

The magistrate said that kombi drivers continued to willy-nilly break road traffic laws as, in his learned observation, the light-weight sentences the judiciary meted out as prescribed by the law were simply not deterrent enough.

A casual reading of the First Schedule (Sections 2(1) and 280) of the Standard Scale of Fines of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act reveals that offences classified as Level 1 to level 4 (wherein most driving offences were classified) attracted penalties from as little as $5 up to $100.

Where in aggravating circumstances a custodial sentence may be imposed, such a sentence may not exceed six months which penalty when imposed, may in reality, after routine suspensions, degrade into only an effective two or three-month jail term.

In other words, the noble magistrate was praying for preventive, correctional measures.

Of course, the courts only interpret the law good law or wicked law, just law or unjust law.

They enjoy no wherewithal to amend an existing, detested law and upgrade it to current sentiment.

Traffic Friday prays the relevant law-making arm of government is in step with fast-evolving traffic events on the ground and will timeously intervene in the light of such desperate magisterial remarks.

Sadly, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport (and Infrastructural Development) chaired by Amos Midzi, seems fast asleep on the wheel. In fact, in all the passionate traffic noises of the past few weeks till now, the hallowed committee has been conspicuous by its unsettling, couldn’t-be-bothered quietness.

Magistrate Mahwe complained about the uninspiring sentences in the books when sentencing the pathetic kombi driver who turned right in front of an oncoming private car, resulting in a destructive collision that seriously hurt three persons.

For his despicable efforts, the sick driver earned himself a sharp six months in prison, with two months set aside.

Additionally, the magistrate cancelled the kombi driver’s licence and barred him from driving for six months.

“Cases of kombi drivers running away from the police are now (a) cause for concern,” he remarked.

“Non-custodial sentences are not achieving any goals to deter them.”

In another emotional case of recent days, a careless PSV driver was jailed for two years by Harare provincial magistrate, Mr Douglas Chikwekwe, for killing a toddler with his escaping kombi.

That sentence has been described by several online commentators as patently lenient, for the careless driver was unlawfully escaping from traffic police and furthermore, brazenly driving against traffic in a one-way street.

Evading the police at any cost seemed to have been more important to this unthinking driver than safeguarding other road users.

The kombi driver’s licence was subsequently cancelled and he was fined US$100 for driving a PSV without the requisite medical endorsement.

He was also barred from any driving for six months, and any PSV for life.

In the outpouring of opinions following the recent kombi crashes, the public consensus is that kombi drivers and other road rule breakers were getting away lightly as a result of what many consider soft penalties in our statuettes.

A punishment must be seen to meet the justice of the offence, and also deter would-be offenders, thereby helping instil discipline in road users. Most sentences trivialise traffic offences that may result in serious injury or even death.

Let the law help infuse in all drivers a culture of dutifully respecting the law, even where a road user feels he has been unjustly treated by the traffic police.

Avenues for remedies bountifully exist in cases of genuine mistreatment by the traffic police.

Desperately trying to evade the traffic police may result in serious, irreparable tragedy.

It is enlightening to list a few stiff sentences from abroad, and neighbouring South Africa, for some offences, where in cases of gross negligence resulting in death, murder charges are preferred to our much-softer culpable homicide.

Roger Walsh got a life sentence for the killing of Anee Khudaverian while driving drunk in 2012 in Canada.

Popular South African musician Jub Jub was recently charged with murder and jailed for 25 years for an illegal street drag race which killed 4 students.

A Pietermaritzburg kombi driver was last year jailed for 12 years for knocking down and seriously injuring a traffic officer.

iolNews confirms that commuter omnibus driver Jacob Humphreys was charged with and found guilty of murdering 10 children and sentenced to 20 years by the Western Cape High Court when his minibus was hit by a train at a level crossing in Cape Town two years ago.

(In Zimbabwe, sadly, in all cases, the typical soft sentence would be more like 24 months incarceration, with suspensions here and there, further diluting the penalty. The luckier ones even escape jail, earning soft community service).

Parliament and other relevant organs of government need to urgently revisit the soft, laughable penalties on our statuettes that even the courts have clearly rubbished.

Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO) secretary general Ngoni Katsvairo has been a much-valued regular critic of Traffic Friday.

I find him to be honest, most-knowledgeable and my delightful interface with kombi operations.

Unlike Traffic Friday though, he staunchly believes the kombi industry, a big employer, can be rehabilitated from its existing sordid image, to widespread acceptance through self-regulation and self-correction (much like the Law Society of Zimbabwe). Katsvairo bemoans what he calls the lack of access to relevant policy makers.

Name and shame

Shame on you whoever drove a presumed Toyota Mark 2 that ran over and killed a 13-year-old girl three weeks ago along Seke Road.

Your behaviour is outrageous and manifestly evil. The famous Long-Arm-of-the-Law will certainly catch-up with you. I pray for many years in jail for your barbaric action. You’re Traffic Friday’s certain “Rombe Resvondo Rino”!

Keep the driving, ‘happy happy!’

The author moderates Road Safety Africa, on www.facebook.comRoadSafetyAfrica lthttp:www.facebook.comRoadSafetyAfricagt, an interactive community page that solicits ideas to curb road traffic accidents in Zimbabwe and Africa.

Source : The Herald