By Mwansa Pintu, Lusaka
As Zambia joined the rest of the world in celebrating the launch of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020, on May 11, the nation is grappling with how to halt the ever-rising rate of road traffic accidents. They are mostly caused by congestion and the increased number of unsafe secondhand Japanese vehicles.
The nation’s customs and excise office, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), estimates that about 300 used Japanese motor vehicles are imported into Zambia on a daily basis. Marvin Mushitu, a member of the Passengers, Pedestrians and Cyclists Association (PAPECA) described this kind of import as “overwhelming” for a developing nation the size of Zambia and with a limited road network.
“It exposes people to increased deaths from road traffic accidents because there is congestion on the roads,” says Mushitu. “What’s more, not all used vehicles are safe, especially those coming from Japan.”
Acting director of the Road Traffic and Safety Agency (RTSA), Martin Mbangu, says that about 1200 people die and 50,000 are left permanently injured as a result of traffic accidents every year. Zambia has a population of about 12.4 million people.
At the UN Decade of Road Safety Launch in Lusaka, Mbangu said that the ever-increase in unfit secondhand Japanese vehicles on the roads and drink-driving had contributed to the increase of traffic accidents. “If nothing is done now to control the situation, deaths arising from road crashes will be the leading cause of premature death for children under five years in countries like Zambia,” he said.
Cheap but dangerous
Joseph Musonda, 32, whose family of five perished in a single road traffic accident in November last year, agrees with Mr Mbangu. Musonda blames his family’s death on the unfit secondhand Toyota Camry vehicle, recently imported from Japan, which developed a mechanical fault while on the road and crashed into an oncoming fuel tanker.
He calls on the Zambian road safety authorities to ensure that only fit secondhand vehicles are imported into the country.“Of course used Japanese vehicles may be cheaper and affordable for most Zambians, but are they safe?”
Key risk factors
Mubanga Mulenga, a RTSA road safety engineer, says that Zambia should make deliberate effort to ensure safety standards of vehicles on its roads are upheld and that road safety management capacities in general are enhanced.
He calls on the government to commit to actions, such as developing and enforcing legislation on key risk factors: speed limits, drunk driving and the use of seat belts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets.
“It’s sad that in this time and age, our drivers still want to drive without seat belts on and over-speed senselessly,” says Mulenga and cautions the Zambian road users to improve their behaviour.