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Let's reduce road deaths: Do unto others...

13 Sep 2019 at 05:47hrs | Views
This is an open letter to all stakeholders concerned with the rising road deaths on our roads. Recently I had an opportunity to drive in another African city, Francistown, Botswana to be specific. I was amazed at the order and discipline of the drivers. I was wowed by the courtesy of giving others right of way even in congested traffic, stopping for the pedestrians at zebra crossings and not going through late amber. It brought into mind the teaching, "Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you." The drive from Francistown to the border was very pleasant apart from a donkey or two. What amazed me was that the road from Francistown to the Botswana side of the border was perfect. So was the road from the Zimbabwe side of the border towards Plumtree and Bulawayo. However the section of road in the no-man's land between the Botswana border post and the Zimbabwe border post is a potholed ugly piece of road. It does not make sense at all. Can the Road Authorities of the two countries not agree to just mend that small portion of road (less than a kilometer I am sure)?

I drove back from Francistown to Harare on a weekend and regretted it as the Bulawayo to Harare traffic was high and the tollgates were taking at least fifteen plus minutes each to cross. There are five toll gates on the road from Bulawayo to Harare, so tollgate time spent was more than one and a quarter hours. I understand that sometimes it is worse than that, especially during public holidays. The driving on the road was horrifically stressful. I kept on praying Psalm 23, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me….." so that I would not meet up with any accidents as there were too many foolish and impatient drivers. They were overtaking at high speed even when there was oncoming traffic, overtaking on bends and rises with clear continuous white lines, sometimes three small cars following each other to overtake a chain of trucks, buses overtaking small cars, cows, donkeys and goats feeding on the roadsides. It is a good thing that my radio was playing "Kuregerera (forgiving) in Advance."

Driving after dark was even more horrific as it included cars coming from the opposite direction with no lights, one light, or with lights on full beam. I had to drastically reduce my speed to below eighty kilometers an hour on average, and let the impatient and kamikaze fools overtake me, including buses. It was a highly stressful drive. Which brings me to a question directed to road engineers in the Ministry of Roads, "Could we not improve the driving on the trunk roads by dualising portions of the road, i.e. putting overtaking lanes and specific intervals given the toll fees that we are paying?" There is evidence of dualisation work going on at some portions between Harare and Norton and there are possibly plans to dualise all the way to Bulawayo, but I am talking of dualising portions intermittently along the whole way to create overtaking lanes, which would allow fast moving traffic not to be hampered by the slow moving trucks, thereby saving lives.

Back in Harare, the first 'near accidental' encounter, was some crazy driver turning right in front of me from the opposite direction after the traffic light went green. As if that was not enough, a kombi (18 seater minibus carrying 25 plus) overtook me to come to a halt in right in front of me with a 'hwindi' (transport tout) hanging from behind. I nearly rammed the 'Hwindi'. My question to ZRP is "Can we not get rid of these dangerous practices of the 'hwindis'?"

I will not mention the guy who hooted impatiently behind me when I tried to be courteous and give way to others coming from my left under the instruction of a poor street kid who took the responsibility of directing traffic at 'his' intersection. I must remember to donate some reflective safety vest for him. However, the woman who was texting while driving with her kid right in the front seat wins my award of the worst driver. I had to unwind my window and gracefully tell her to strap her kid in the back seat and stop using the phone. She grinned at me. I could not decipher the meaning of the grin. All this happened on a Sunday while I was going to church. The only thing that helped me keep my cool was listening to the song playing on the radio "My help cometh from the Lord" as in Psalm 121, otherwise I had gone over my quota of forgiving "seventy time seven times."

I am trying my best to make a difference in the traffic jungle and despite seemingly losing the battle, I will not give up on trying. If a number of us heed the call to be better drivers by "doing unto others…" we may just win. If Botswana can do it why can't we? I shudder to think what the traffic 'horror' would look like if it weren't for the lower traffic caused by the combination fuel prices and fuel shortages. The fuel queues have improved a bit as the price has been corrected, but supplies are still below the demand.

Back to my Sunday morning drive. After the church service, as I was driving home I came across two traffic accidents at different intersections. I am not able to tell what was the cause of the two accidents as they happened before I got there, ON SUNDAY! I myself am not a perfect driver as I got into the lane of oncoming traffic as I tried to avoid a crater of a pothole in from of me. I just avoided a head-on. I also nearly, nearly lost my temper at the kombi driver who did not stop for me as I had already gone into the intersection as directed by the traffic controller. He was coming from my right and last time I checked in the Highway Code, I was supposed to give way to him. But if the traffic light is under control of a traffic controller then that rule does not apply. I may need some advice here because I may be wrong since the traffic controller was a street kid. Did I mention the brick transporting truck which died in the middle of the road and put two bricks as the warning triangle?

I advocate for good citizens to be very courteous drivers always. I also advocate for the police to come back and put order in the streets. The traffic violations are becoming too many. According to WHO 2018 statistics ( Zimbabwe, together with Burundi, is reported to be one of the highest statistics of road deaths at 34.7 per 100k population. Botswana is at 23.8 deaths per 100k. The Sub-saharan average is 27 deaths per 100k. Efforts to corroborate the WHO statistics with Zimbabwe government's own statistics was frustrating as the websites such as that of the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe ( puts the road deaths at a much lower figure of 1259 killed in 2017, i.e. about 9 per 100k. Other news articles quote a ministerial statement "In 2018, 1 986 people died due to road accidents compared to 1 828 who perished in 2017." If I were a ministry official I would contact the WHO to correct their statistics so that Zimbabwe is removed from the highest road deaths at 34.7 to about 9 per 100k, the European average. Curiously, why is the Highway Code not downloadable for free on the Traffic Safety Council's website?

Courtesy on the roads may be one of the answers to reduce road accidents. Consider others and "do (good) unto others as you would like them to do (good) unto you," rather than the selfish "do (bad) unto others before they do (bad) unto you." Here are a few areas I think will help:

1. When approaching an intercsection with a faulty robot, slow down even if you have right of way. Some traffic lights may have just one bulb working and you need to spot that. Only proceed when it is safe to do so.

2. Be courteous and even giveway to those coming from the left as it may be difficult for them to proceed in high traffic.

3. When there is a traffic jam, try not to lose your temper. It only causes road rage.

4. Respect 'street kid' traffic controllers but be aware that you may still be liable for any accident you may cause under their instruction. Also do not stop to be compassionate by giving the street kid money or your leftover bananas while you are crossing the intersection.

5. Do not text or talk and drive. Resist this. If you cannot resist, you may need counselling for FOMO (fear of missing out) addiction or NOMOBIA (phobia of having no mobile phone). This is serious. Try and not look at your phone messages or answering the phone while drving and you will see how difficult it is. But it will save a life.

6. When approaching a busy intersection lookout for the traffic policeman or policewoman directing traffic, as they are difficult to spot until you get to the intersection. They need brighter reflective gear and also they may have to stand on a podium like in other countries.

7. Driving when drunk is sucicidal, downright stupid. Drinking when driving tips_ the scale of insanity. Driving under the influence of msombodiya and any other hard drug shocks even the inhabitants of Gehena.

8. Never ever turn right in front of oncoming traffic when the traffic light goes green.

9. Hopefully the Roads department or City of Harare will clearly paint Zebra crossings.

10. Hopefully the Roads department or City of Harare will replace bulbs at traffic lights and possibly installl solar powered traffic lights.

11. Hopefully ZRP will come back on the streets to enforce the rule of law to get rid of unlicensed drivers, bad drivers, unroadworthy vehicles, rather than collect 'toll' fees.

12. Hopefully we have stopped the corrupt issuing of licenses.

Asante sana.

Source - Engineer Tororiro Isaac Chaza PMP
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