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'Taming the Shrew' - Deaths on our Roads

19 Jun 2019 at 07:53hrs | Views
Driving in Harare and in the highways of Zimbabwe has become distressful. Recent reports of high profile road traffic deaths refer. The traffic chaos has become a 'shrew.' There is urgent need to 'tame the shrew,' to borrow from Shakespeare's prose. Why do I call our traffic a 'shrew'? According to a 'shrew' is described with a warning thus, "Use the noun shrew — at your own risk — to refer to a woman who is argumentative, nagging, and ill-tempered." That is an apt depiction of the traffic madness in our streets and highways, albeit caused mainly by heedless male drivers. I am greatly flummoxed as to why Shakespeare would use 'shrew' to portray a woman of ill temper. He would have to explain himself. I am absolved. The effect of the traffic 'shrew' is alarming road death statistics reported thus:-

"Sadly, we continue to lose lives and limbs on our roads due to the preventable drivers' conducts. Last year 2018, we recorded an increase in road traffic collisions from 42 950 in 2017 to 52 052 in 2018. Road traffic deaths also increased from 1 828 in 2017 to 1 986 in 2018. The number of people injured went up from 10 584 to 11 924," said Minister Matiza (Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development – MoTID)., 4 February 2019.

Curiously I googled to get comparative stats and came across a World Health Organisation (WHO) report  'Global status report on road safety 2018' on, which puts Zimbabwe's reported road traffic deaths at 1721 for 2016. However WHO computes its own figures using some statistical modeling technique and puts the Zimbabwean road deaths figure at 5601. The country reported figure and the WHO computed figure show a discrepancy of 320%. Since this is not a professional research paper, allow me in this discourse to take the country reported figure as the approximation of truth. To use the WHO figure would require me to do a more laborious study in a field in which I am not an expert. However my curiosity remains insatiate as the same report gives only 12% discrepancy in the reported and modeled figures for say, the UK.

I conjured up this article on the need to, and how to 'tame the shrew' when I was stuck in a petrol queue with lots of time to be distressed. I discovered a copy of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Client Service Charter in the glove compartment of my vehicle. I believe it was handed to me a year or so ago by the police during a Public Relations exercise. My distress turned to de-stress as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It is a well-articulated document. The vision states "To be the leading police service provider in the world by 2020." Yes, that is right, 2020 AD, next year that is. The mission statement follows, "To maintain law and order, protect and secure the lives and property of the people and to institute dynamic policing practices and engender effective prevention, investigation and detection of crime." It is a good read indeed. My 'contriving' mind got revved up.

I reckon for ZRP (soon to be Zimbabwe Police Service – ZPS) to be 'leading' they have to aim to be in the top ten. According to and other websites, the top ten police forces that ZRP would have to contend with for the leading position are 1) UK's Scotland Yard, 2) Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 3) Dutch Police, 4) National Police of France, 5) Japan's National Police Agency, 6) USA's Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as an example, 7) Australian Federal Police, 8) Germany's Bundespolizei, 9) Chinese People's Armed Police Force (PAP), and 10) Italy's Carabinieri. As a good citizen and a good client of the police service that I am, mine is not to fashion an opinion, positive or negative, but to raise the question "How can I help ZRP achieve this vision of being the leading police service provider by 20YY?" I believe I have a role to play to complement the police effort to be the best. 2020 might to need be revised a bit. You can download a copy of the ZRP Client Service Charter from The document was uploaded as far back as September 2015.

Under the 'Operations' performance pillar, the ZRP Client Service Charter lists a number of core functions. The one that I believe we all can assist in achieving is the one on traffic. It states, "Fostering an efficient and effective traffic management system to curb road carnage," hence my use of the term, 'taming the shrew.' Furthermore the document states under the minimum standards of performance the objective of curbing traffic accidents as, "To limit the rate of growth of traffic accidents to 5% basing on previous year's figures." Personally I would have liked to see a reduction in the quantum of accidents rather than a limit to the rate of growth of accidents. But I suppose it is more realistic considering the current chaos exacerbated by the increase in vehicles and drivers licenses.  In order to understand the objective, one has to note that the rate of accidents would normally be much more than 5%. Minister Matiza's statement earlier on shows an increase of 21% in road traffic collisions, and 9% in road deaths in 2018. Therefore even a reduction in growth rate of traffic accidents from 21% to 5% would be a mammoth task. Compare with say, the UK, where during the same period, "there were 1,770 reported road fatalities, a 3% increase from 1,718 the previous year."

Please observe that there were 1986 road traffic deaths in Zimbabwe, with a population of 17 million, as compared to Britain's 1770 road traffic deaths with a population of 66 million, over the same period. This computes to about 11.7 deaths per 100,000 for Zimbabwe (WHO puts the figure at 34.7) and about 2.7 deaths per 100,000 for Britain (WHO at 3.1). Of course one can throw in the GDP/Capita stats to show a high inverse correlation between economic performance and road deaths, as high income countries generally have lower accidents and resultant deaths than lower income countries, a glaring point observed in the WHO road safety report.  My point is that for ZRP to be judged as a "leading police service provider in the world by 20YY," there has to be some form of performance measurement baseline. I am proposing one of the baselines to be traffic accidents and resulting deaths. Therefore if we were to compare with UK we would have to reduce the road traffic deaths to 2.7 per 100,000 population, which would be an absolute of about 470 deaths at the current population. Of course this is not likely by 2020 and also because the current police target is not to reduce the absolute but to reduce the rate of growth. I will not put the burden of achieving this mammoth undertaking on the police alone. We all have a role to play. There are a number of areas where the police can do their job and improve using the 'dynamic policing practices,' but there are equally a number of areas that we as citizens, corporate and individual, must assist.

The publication 'Save Lives - A Road Safety Technical Package' WHO 2017, puts forward six core components for improving road traffic safety as 1) Speed management, 2) Leadership on road safety, 3) Infrastructure design and improvement, 4) Vehicle safety standards, 5) Enforcement of traffic laws and 6) Survival after a crash.

Let us discuss them one by one in the context of taming the Zimbabwean traffic 'shrew.' Speed management would entail essentially enforcing speed laws and building infrastructure that curtails over-speeding, at the same time allowing smooth flow of traffic, e.g. speed humps and round-abouts. Enforcement: I am glad that the police have stopped the unnecessary roadblocks, which used to be called 'toll-gates' as they were an unpopular way to raise fiscal income, if not officer income. It was highly irritating to be fined for a 'wrong' type of reflector, or fire extinguisher. The practice mysteriously and abruptly stopped around mid-November 2017. I rejoiced. However my rejoicing was short-lived as road traffic became a 'shrew'. I would say to the police, "ZRP, where art thou ZRP? All is forgiven, please come back to 'tame the shrew'!" However this time not to exact 'toll fees,' but to enforce traffic laws starting with speed traps and speed cameras. Street cameras would go a long way in detecting traffic abuse and street crime. If there were street cameras at major intersections, the police would detect congestion and also pick up all the violators who drive through late amber or red robots. They would then post fines and with technology the police can easily pick all those with unpaid fines at roadblocks and official tollgates. ZINARA in collaboration with corporates can help with such technology.

The second core component, 'Leadership on road safety', can be spearheaded by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe and the police. This entails coming up with road safety strategies, public campaigns and education. Other stakeholders will need to be identified in this core component in order to complement the police efforts. The first pass identification yields the city councils, Transport and Infrastructure Development Ministry, ZINARA, corporate players, concerned drivers, passengers, public transport ministry and operators. I notice that there are organizations called the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ), and transport owners associations such as the Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO). Last but not least, we need prayer intercessors, as we need prayers for this to work.

The third core component is 'Infrastructure design and improvement'. I will start with our road infrastructure, which is in a very bad state. The pot-holes are just too many and too deep. They are visible on Google maps. This causes accidents as people try to avoid them and get into oncoming traffic's way or into a roadside ditch. The trunk roads are narrow and not well maintained, giving rise to accidents caused by mistakes such as overtaking. The trunk roads are not fenced and cows and donkeys often enter into the roads. If you hit a full grown cow at 120 km/hr you may not survive to tell the tale. The intersections in urban areas are now very dangerous, as the traffic lights do not work at all or if they do it is difficult to understand the change from red to nothing. Bulbs are the issue. The police do an excellent job of manning these intersections during the day. But combine this with faded road markings, unruly kombi and mshikashika drivers who either speed through a red robot, turn left from the inner right turn lane, turn right from the outer left turn lane, drive against on-coming traffic, overtake to immediately stop and then reenter the road without indication, speed with a youth hanging outside the back of the kombi, and many more violations. That is the 'shrew' at work.

Traffic lights (robots) need not go 'dead' due to power cuts or no bulbs. Corporates can contribute solar powered robots and maintain these at major intersections. I urge good corporate citizen to collaborate with ZINARA and the city councils and volunteer to install solar powered robots and supply bulbs at major intersections. Of course the responsive corporate would be allowed to install its advertising collateral at these intersection. Perhaps corporates could also assist in installing long lasting, quality solar streetlights. In the long term it will also be necessary to build outer city ring roads around major cities. For instance it should be possible for one to drive from the Masvingo road to the Mtoko road without passing through the Harare CBD and suburbs.

The fourth core component is vehicle safety standards. The 'United Nations (UN) Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations' includes the following measures: seat- belts; seat-belt anchorages; frontal impact; side impact; electronic stability control; pedestrian protection; and ISOFIX child restraint anchorage points. I will skip these and focus on very basic roadworthiness issues. There seems to be evidence in the press about enforcing roadworthiness. It was reported in the Sunday News article, "VID TEST FOR ALL CARS: . . . Parliament moots annual fitness checks for private cars," 5 February 2017, that parliament recommended yearly vehicle inspection for all cars. This is a good and urgent idea. The only problem is that 80+% of vehicles in Zimbabwe would have to forcibly be taken off the streets. I reckon most, if not all kombis and mshikashikas would disappear. That would certainly tame the 'shrew'. This would be aided by the current efforts to improve urban transport, which includes revamping the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO). Furthermore there is need to improve on urban transport using rapid transit technologies as a long term strategy. This can work. I grew up using the Harare United Omnibus Company (HUOC) and it was efficient. I urge the government to bring back HUOC efficiency. This requires money, and I believe corporates can be or are already up to it.

'Enforcement of traffic laws' is the fifth core component put forward by WHO, whose 'Save Lives' report states that "another problem identified is inadequate, or lack of, enforcement of traffic laws due to factors such as lack of political will, limited financial and human resources, competing priorities at national level and corruption." Let us focus on corruption in issuing of drivers licenses:-

"Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo (ex-minister MoTID) ) has given officials from the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) a 100-day ultimatum to stop corrupt activities or risk prosecution." 1, Feb. 2018.

If I were the minister, I would declare that all license holders who obtained their licenses pre-Y2K are safe drivers and all who obtained their licenses post-Y2K will have to be retested, that is after cleaning up the VID of course.

Directing of traffic at intersections by street kids is not advisable. However you cannot help but appreciate what they are doing as they actually help traffic to move. But if you have an accident, say you entered the intersection because you were directed by a street kid and a vehicle coming from you right rams into you, you cannot use the street kid as your defense. The problem is that the street kids are not trained and the law does not recognize them as legal enforcers. Oft times they easily abandon their 'duty' in order to receive alms from well wishing motorists. I like what I have seen in the streets of Johannesburg where traffic police wearing branded gear and equipped with branded motorcycles man the major intersections, which are prone to congestion. The brand is a leading insurance company. Corporates can collaborate with ZRP and the Traffic Safety Council on this one.

Another issue that frustrates me highly is the number of drivers whom I see looking down at their cellphones to read, text or answer while driving. The probability of having an accident increases as one looks away from the road to concentrate on the phone. I do not know what the Zimbabwean stats on this are, but in the USA it was observed that 1 out of every 4 car accidents is caused by texting and driving, and this is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk - I am a culprit here because the minute I get into the car to drive from the office, I remember all the phone calls I needed to make. I then try hard to restrain myself to wait until I stop somewhere. In their quest for 'dynamic policing practices' ZRP would need a system of detecting the cellphone culprits and impose heavy fines. I propose also that, just as cigarette manufacturers are mandated by law to write on billboards "Smoking kills," the cellphone companies should also be enticed to advertise on billboards or send smses stating "cellphone usage while driving kills." Similarly the alcohol beverage manufacturers should put up billboards with "Drinking under the influence kills."

The sixth core element is 'Survival after a crash'. The key issue here is that lack of effective emergency care after an accident is a cause of deaths and disability. This calls for addressing another area, which would require me to get into another distressing discourse about the state of our health sector. The 'Save Lives' report asserts:-

"Injury care is extremely time-sensitive: delays of minutes can make the difference between life and death. Fatality rates from severe injury are dramatically higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries with well-developed emergency care systems."

In conclusion, we all have a role to play in 'taming the shrew'. Zimbabwe will be 'great again' if we all play our part and assist our police force ZRP to 'curb the road carnage' and to become 'the leading police service provider by 20YY'. I pray, no more speeding kombis with youths hanging outside the back.

Source - Engineer Tororiro Isaac Chaza PMP
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