ACCORDING to the United Nations (UN), nearly 1.3 million people die and up to 50 million are injured owing to road traffic accidents globally.
The UN states that road traffic injuries remain a major public health problem and a leading cause of death, injury and disability around the world.
Road traffic accidents are among the leading causes of death for people aged between 5 and 44. More than 90 per cent of these deaths happen in low-income and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles.
Besides them leading to death, injury and disability, road traffic accidents threaten to hinder economic growth and human development.
Approximately US $518 billion is lost globally owing to road traffic accidents while costing Governments between 1 and 3 per cent of their Gross National Product (GNP), according to the UN.
For low and middle income countries, the loss is more than the total amount of development assistance they receive.
Road traffic accidents place a heavy burden on a country’s economy as a result of their direct impact on health-care and rehabilitation services, as well as through indirect costs.
The UN further states that road traffic accidents put considerable financial stress on affected families, who often must absorb medical and rehabilitation costs, funeral costs and such other costs in addition to extensive emotional strain.
It is in view of the road accidents’ negative repercussions that the UN General Assembly proclaimed the period 2011 to 2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety’s goal is to stabilise and then reduce the road traffic fatalities forecast level around the world by increasing activities conducted at national, regional and global levels.
Zambia has not been spared from road carnages, which have disturbingly been on the rise in recent years, leaving several people dead and others injured.
The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), established through the Road Traffic Act No. 11 of 2002, has been mandated to implement Government policy on road safety and transport management.
RTSA senior public relations manager Mercy Mwila said in an interview that the major cause of road traffic accidents is human error.
Ms Mwila said a “very good number” of accident victims are pedestrians and cited statistics of the first quarter of this year where more than 465 died in road traffic accidents, 233 of them being
“That shows that pedestrians are more vulnerable road users,” she said. Ms Mwila said the above number of pedestrian victims amounts to 50 per cent, adding that the second most vulnerable group are motor vehicle passengers who in the given first quarter statistics account for 115 deaths.
Cyclists are the third most vulnerable road users, 51 of whom died from the total 465 people followed by drivers, who accounted for 48 fatalities.
With pedestrians being identified as the most vulnerable road users, one wonders what purpose road signs such as pedestrian crossings and footbridges serve.
It has been observed that most pedestrians choose to cross at any point instead of using pedestrian crossings, while others in areas where there are foot bridges prefer not to use them to cross busy roads such as Great East and Kafue.
“A pedestrian crossing indicates the safest place to cross the road when there is no traffic officer, traffic inspector, traffic warden or no foot bridge and motorists are obliged to stop to give an opportunity to pedestrians to cross the road,” Ms Mwila said.
Ms Mwila, however, said in as much as pedestrians have the right of way on pedestrian crossings, they should desist from crossing the road at their own pace, as is the case in most cases.
She added that when crossing roads with traffic lights, there is need for pedestrians to wait for the symbol depicting a person to turn green before they cross the road.
Ms Mwila also cautioned motorists to give chance to other road users as they are not the only road users and that motorists should desist from driving past traffic lights before they turned green.
RTSA is in the process of stiffening the Road Traffic Act No. 11 of 2002 in a bid to drastically reduce road accidents and it is hoped that one day it will be an offence for pedestrians who do not use pedestrian crossings or foot bridges to cross the road, as is the case in other countries.
The Agency, as another measure in tandem with the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, is lobbying Government and collaborating partners to ensure that they engage RTSA when constructing roads to ensure that components of road safety are taken on board.
As roads are being constructed, there is need to have other road users in mind such as pedestrians, cyclists and disabled persons by including foot bridges and pathways, among other infrastructure that are ideal for all road users.
Following a Memorandum of Understanding with the Judiciary, RTSA introduced Fast Track courts to deal with traffic offences and in the first quarter of this year, more than 1,000 offenders were penalised for various wrongdoings such as dangerous driving, speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol, among others.
The culprits are usually fined while others are imprisoned if they fail to pay a fine.
Plans are underway to extend the Fast Track courts to other parts of the country other than limiting them to Lusaka.
The Agency bought two tow trucks and intends to acquire three more to be used to remove broken down vehicles from the roads. This aims to prevent accidents caused by stationary vehicles and reduces congestion from the already congested roads.
A couple of years ago, RTSA bought vehicle testing machines aimed at encouraging motorists to drive road worthy vehicles but the equipment received more criticism than praises, with most motorists arguing that the machines were defective.
The Zambia Road Safety Trust (ZRST) views Zambia as having one of the worst road safety records in the world as nearly 2,000 lives are lost annually, with pedestrians being the major victims.
ZRST, headed by Daniel Mwamba, is a nonprofit organisation which seeks to create awareness on road safety and contribute towards reduction in road traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities.
ZRST cites ineffective traffic enforcement and management of road laws, inadequate road safety engineering facilities particularly for pedestrians, unlicensed drivers and lack of people’s awareness of safe use of roads as the main reasons for road accidents in the country.
Mr Mwamba said in view of the alarming increase in fatal road crashes, the Trust was appealing to Government to drastically change the transportation policy by giving top priority to safety and sustainable mobility.
Mr Mwamba charged that the current transport policy formulated in 2002 has allegedly failed to address the current transport problems.
ZRST wants the new policy to address traffic-danger related injuries and mobility as a public health and human rights issue, design roads taking account of the role of the public space and rights or needs of vulnerable users.
ZRST wants licensing laws to be overhauled as it views existing laws on driver licensing as being unclear or not practical resulting in many lives being at risk from incompetent drivers who obtain licences either unlawfully or simply do not have them.
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety is a well-meaning initiative which is capable of drastically reducing road carnage locally and the world at large if it is well implemented.