By Daniel Mwamba

Friday, 7th February this year marks the first anniversary when 51 of our people died in a single road accident.  On this fateful day, more than 60 people were travelling from Ndola to Lusaka on a POST Bus when they met their fate at Chibombo.

Yet  we question ourselves what has happened a year after to eliminate the road risks or what we may see as poor road design at Chibombo junction?

As we remember the Chibombo victims, areas of risk or areas with a higher than average proportion of accidents such as at Chibombo junction  should  be identified through accident analysis and road assessments by the relevant authorities.

Where higher than average accident rates happens proactive risk removal strategies should be developed. This approach identifies elements within the road environment which are likely to contribute to an increased risk of accidents and sets out strategies to eliminate them. There is evidence that safer road design, better speed management and better provision for vulnerable road users can bring about the reduction in accidents on our roads that we are all seeking. This can be a major step forward in preventing the distress inflicted on our communities as a result of pointless road accidents.

For several years European automobile clubs and national and regional road authorities have been working together in the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) to provide independent,  consistent safety rating of roads. These road assessment programmes aim to show the public the location of the highest risk roads and to offer guidance on how to fix problems. Sometimes the cost of saving lives can be as little as the paint to provide clear road markings or safety fencing to prevent vehicles colliding with obstacles – trees, lampposts – at the roadside.

Thousands of road stretches across Europe have been assessed and the methods used are now being applied in Australia and piloted in the USA. If this kind of road safety assessment were done at Chibombo for instance, the consequence would be far fewer unnecessary deaths and injuries.

Road accidents are estimated to cost Zambia millions of kwachas per year. Over 1600 people were killed last year, a year on year increase since 2005. Currently about 4 people die every day and more are injured, some seriously. For every death there are 20-50 serious injuries, and these injuries fill hospital wards—drive families into poverty, and impose extremely high costs on families and communities. Fatal accidents not only have a significant and traumatic effect on the friends and relatives of the deceased but also have a major impact on Zambian society as a whole.

However, its more than just numbers.

“A road accident left my brother gravely injured and vegetative for life. It makes me angry and it broke my heart.”

Often we think such things may never happen to us and we can never fully imagine how it can change things for us.

More than 70% of those killed on the roads are young breadwinners between the ages of 19 to 44. Zambia can ill afford to lose these young people, who represent the future for their families and communities.  It is the poorest people, working people, who are most affected by road accidents, often leaving families suddenly without a breadwinner. Protecting the poorest and most vulnerable road users in our communities must be the first responsibility of everyone. Road deaths represent a huge burden on our health systems and an obstacle to government efforts to overcome poverty. If you think about it in terms of public health, road accidents cause premature death and disability to a great deal of people and also incur huge medical costs in terms of the people that need to be treated.

And yet the daily life of each person depends on our roads, to get to school, to work, or to the surgery (clinic); to do business, to underpin agriculture and trade. But because of poor road design in Zambia simple journeys are hazardous.

According to the Zambia Police, 46% or nearly half of the people killed or badly hurt in road accidents are simply walking (pedestrians).  The fact that we Zambians should allow this to carry on day in day out, year in year out, says something for the terrible invisibility of this problem.

If we look at the past the numbers of victims are bad enough, if we look at the future they become positively distressing. On the projections of the World Health Organisation,  by 2020 road accidents are going to be the number one cause of death and disability for children and young people above the age of four.

Now this is avoidable but if we don’t take action now to change this trend the outcome is going to be that an awful lot of our people are going to lose their lives. This is unbearable. One year on after Chibombo disaster, they should be no room for complacency and that efforts must be renewed and concerted if we are to reverse the fatal trend in our accident toll.

Sweden has made extraordinary progress in reducing the numbers of children killed in road accidents. From 1971 to 2005, the number of children killed in roads in Sweden was brought down from 128 to 11. They are working on a plan called Vision Zero, and letting it be known that their goal is to have zero road deaths. They have pioneered changes in road design that have been as effective as our best vaccines.

But while Sweden is making great progress and showing us that children don’t have to die on the roads, the problem is getting much, much worse in our country.

The Zambian Road Safety Trust believe that optimum casualty reduction can best be achieved through working in partnership with organisations sharing responsibility for road safety, particularly those involved in education and enforcement such as RTSA and the Zambia Police.

The Zambian Road Safety Trust seeks to create awareness on road safety issues in Zambia and contribute towards reduction in road traffic accidents, injury and loss of lives. For each affected family, every road death is one too many, and we want to do all we can to reduce the number of tragedies experienced on Zambian roads each year.

One of the most critical problems we face in reducing the epidemic of road accident deaths is that we fail to see a collective responsibility in road safety that government should assume. We still blame the victim or the driver, and absolve government of the responsibility to make our roads safe.  Investment in time and resources in road safety initiatives by every responsible road user will bring major benefits not just in financial terms but, more importantly, by reducing the pain and suffering inflicted on our society by avoidable deaths and injuries. Failure is not an option. Sweden has shown us that we can do it. /END