ROAD traffic accidents are ranked the third highest cause of death after HIV/AIDS and malaria in Zambia.
This means that road carnage remains an important public safety and health problem in Zambia, and a clear indicator that something urgently needs to be done to reverse the situation.
Road safety operations in Zambia have always relied on the traditional road accidents countermeasures, such as regulation and surveillance of road users’ behaviour, and sensitizing them on the correct way to behave, through information communication programmes, in order to avoid accidents.
Under this road safety approach, individual road-users are entirely blamed for the road crashes and as a result countermeasures have mostly been aimed at changing the road users’ behaviour for them to adapt to the road traffic system.
Causes of accidents, under this system, like over-speeding, driving under influence of drugs and alcohol, driving when tired and the non-use of restraints, the mobile telephones while driving, failure to observe safe distances etc., are attributed to the driver because they are all factors within his or her control.
This system believes that if the factors outlined are within the control of the driver, it means he or she can ably avoid road crashes and deaths due to road accidents.
But experience has shown it may not be easy because the driver’s behaviours is not motivated by his decisions alone but also by other components of the road traffic system.
It is for this reason that a system approach becomes more appropriate as it recognises that the human body is highly vulnerable to injury and that people are fallible.
Much as it is aimed at changing the behaviour of the road user, efforts are also channeled to the safety improvement of the two other components in the road traffic system, namely the vehicle and the road environment.
Experience has shown that safety improvement efforts on the roads must also include putting in place good road designs that should minimise the consequences of human error.
For instance, there a lot of curves on most local roads – constructed without angles of curvatures, resulting in some drivers failing to control their vehicles and careering off the roads; other roads are very close to buildings and some drivers end up ramming into them once vehicles lose control is lost, and some roads bear no road markings and signs.
A modern way of promoting road safety places emphasis on the separation of road users.
Motorised traffic must be separated from pedestrians and cyclists; high risk spots where many accidents occur, must be improved and made much safer; buildings should be located far from the highways to avoid unnecessary loss of lives.
The importation of second-hand vehicles must be regulated to ensure that only vehicle models with modern safety features, seat belts, airbags etc. are brought in Zambia
Government should formulate a clear national road traffic safety policy and vision, aimed at preventing road carnage and deaths as the media actively continues to raise awareness on the need to observe traffic rules by all road users.
Of critical importance too, is the reduction of accident fatalities and injuries through quick post-crash management.
Pre-hospital emergency and rescue medical services should be made available along most highways in the country to provide first aid treatment to accident victims before being taken to distant health facilities.
Currently, the injured are usually driven to not so near health facilities while in their critical state, and that worsens their condition and reduces their survival chance.
Lastly, we need to bear in mind that reducing traffic accidents and fatalities on our Zambian roads, is not about the police and RTSA officers checking the vehicles for their road worthiness, if they have paid their road tax or whether the driver is licensed or not but ensuring that the roads are good condition, they bear safety such as road signs, pedestrian crossings and speed bumps.
But above all, the road users need to clearly understand that observing road safety rules, is not just in the interest of the other road users but theirs also because they can be victims too.