Nipping lawlessness on roads in the bud
By Joe Maere:
Informality means deviation from established or expected standard practice. It is the derangement from a norm of conduct for which a social or economic cost arises or accrues to disturb a setup in the current time or future. In this case, such a cost brings chaos—socially, economically or both—to people’s lives.
It can be said, therefore, that our roads are riddled with chaos, which has unfortunately been tolerated and has, consequently, become a cost as cases of accidents are becoming a way of life. A lot of lives, goods and property have been lost and there seems to be no end in sight as such occurrences have become established.
In other words, all things wrong have turned into the new normal.
The first in line, in terms of solutions, is to ensure adherence to basic standards. These standards are set out in laws, which regulate the conduct of road users on the roads. This also applies to those who are engaged in various forms of business or engaged in trading in our localities.
For one to drive on the roads of Malawi, the basic standard is that they be trained at designated schools of driving in a category of vehicle or plant of choice as per protocols that the Road Traffic Act established. One can have a motorcycling licence, saloon licence, light pick-ups licence, passenger services vehicles licence, huge trucks and plants licences.
The licences are, therefore, a must for everyone to drive or use a motor cycle on the roads of Malawi. It is only ordinary cyclists and pedestrians that do not require a licence but must still comply with traffic laws.
The largest number of road users are pedestrians, ordinary cyclists, motor cyclists, saloon vehicles, minibuses, buses, trucks and plants, in that order.
However, the first state of informality is seen in failure by authorities to enforce laws on pedestrians and ordinary cyclists, who glossily breach set protocols: Pedestrians walk any side of the road and cross anywhere they want.
Ordinary bicycle riders wear no helmets or reflectors and even children under 18 years of age are seen cycling on main roads. The fact that the first two largest road users are the most negligent and go unpunished has established chaos and bred it on the roads, leading to loss of life and property.
Behavioural theorist Thorndike observed that performance increases if there is precedence of reward, further indicating that cases of wrongdoing decline when wrong-doers are punished in precedence.
Our authorities at Traffic Police and Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services must rise to the occasion and effect universality of principle on all road users in the application of laws on wrongdoers.
In fact, pedestrians breaching road traffic protocols are just as worse as motorists. We, as a country, should wait for a day when the largest road user will be penalised as a check and deterrent to the negligent many.
The blooming of Kabaza motor cyclists business is another thorn in the flesh of road traffic laws. Many motor cyclists have no licences, operate on unregistered units and have no insurances as demanded by law.
No wonder, in recent times, there has been a huge rise in cases of accidents involving this third largest group of road users. The authorities have presided over this chaos because they have been negligible in enforcement.
Again, our politicians have played a part in the chaos by siding with road traffic law breakers in Kabaza boys just to gain cheap political marks.
The law cannot be set aside on petty political manoeuvring. In fact, the very suspension of execution of law is illegal and a recipe for increased chaos on the roads of Malawi.
The right to free economic activity does not override traffic laws; it complements the right to life and property of Kabaza boys and other road users.
Just imagine the blank cheque of a business model in minibuses. Just buy one, give it to a driver and tell him to just bring K15,000 daily. No business plan, no rules, nothing. Total chaos on the go.
The Road Traffic Directorate was supposed to regulate the industry in some way by setting minimum operating standards. The easy hiring and firing of minibus drivers is chaotic too, just as easy joining.
They do not get punished for wrong-doing with one employer and freely move to join another as a norm. Unless there are some checks and balances on these labour excesses, road carnage involving minibuses is bound to escalate.
Again, there must be punishments meted out on passengers for boarding in excess of limit. If two are supposed to sit per seat and more than that are sitting, the last one(s) in logical order must be fined.
It should also follow that when the driver is speeding and authorities intercept them, the passengers must be fined for dutiful negligence to control the driver. No spot fine for the driver and, instead, the driver must be taken to court for hearing. The punishments must be periodic suspension of licence.
Then we get to cases of roadside trading that have resulted in congestion on roadsides in cities. The authorities continue to work only when an accident happens and relax yet again when memory of the same fades.
Of course, we also have another vice: Drink driving. Just last week, the World Bank cited alcohol abuse as one of the factors contributing to rising cases of road accidents in the country.
In a recent report, the bank says alcohol abuse is leading to loss of property and human lives.
Findings of its study, which had 1,251 respondents, indicate that the alcohol consumption rate is at 30.7 percent among males and 2.5 percent among females.
The report shows minor differences across different age groups, with the highest prevalence rate of alcohol use among those between 25 and 44 years at between 26 and 27 percent while that for respondents aged more than 45 years stands at 19.7 percent.
“The highest prevalence of alcohol was found among patients with no formal education (33.3 percent) compared to patients with college or university education (22.1 percent) with the lowest prevalence. When comparing the different road users, the highest prevalence of alcohol was found among pedestrians (41.8 percent) while the prevalence among the other road users varied from 19.1 percent (bicycle riders) to 24 percent (motorcycle riders),” the report reads.
The report further notes that there were more cases of people being injured on weekend nights, at 59 percent, as compared to any other time of the week.
The report recommends a reduction of the recommended Blood Alcohol Concentration limit from 0.08g/dl) to at least 0.5 percent.
“The police should focus their controls on periods with a high frequency of alcohol-related crashes, primarily weekend nights but also weekday nights. In order to do so, the Police must be provided with the necessary testing equipment. Reflective gear for pedestrians should be recommended and provided, as well as instalment of road lighting, speed calming measures and safer pedestrian crossings,” the report reads.
Malawi Police Service spokesperson James Kadadzera acknowledged that alcohol abuse was a contributing factor to rising cases of road accidents in the country.
“We are sensitising people to say, ‘please if you are driving, don’t drink alcohol’,” he said.
Kadadzera said they have also increased the number of law enforcers operating at night to ensure that road users abide by road traffic rules.
This is the way to go. Otherwise, road carnage in this country is bound to be a way of life if laws are not applied just because duty-bearers are out to appease members of the public.