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Tackling traffic jams

With Lorraine Lusinje:

The way Malawi is depicted on the international scene, one would think this is the last place to find traffic jams. We are, after all, depicted as a jungle full of illiterate and malnourished people who have not experienced civilization yet. I am sure it is such a shocker to get into the two major cities and find them thronging with traffic, wondering where the jungle and wild animals have disappeared to (ha ha ha).

Jokes aside, traffic in the country has become a menace. We underestimated how fast people would accumulate cars, especially in the capital and the commercial city. Lilongwe is a vast a town and getting things done can be a headache. It can take a whole afternoon to get errands that would ideally take two hours because the hustle is just too much.

However, things could have been better than they are and can be better in both Blantyre and Lilongwe. There is need for some specific and intensive regulation enforcement. I am told, in other countries, all road users are subject to regulations and fines once they break applicable laws.

Of course, we do have regulations for other road users too apart from those driving cars. For instance, it seems pedestrians assume that a zebra-crossing means they can just jump onto the road anytime and anyhow and a car ought to halt immediately when, in essence, a car is mandated to stop when a pedestrian has already stepped onto a crossing or has indicated intent to cross just as cars are obligated to slow down when approaching a crossing.

Someone summed it up nicely

“Let’s begin with rules for pedestrians crossing the street, first in crosswalks and then at other locations. At crosswalks, pedestrians really only have one rule: Don’t run out in front of a car, making it impossible for the driver to stop in time.

“Again, it seems obvious. However, have you ever seen a pedestrian step into a crosswalk, right in front of a car because sending a text message was higher priority than checking for traffic? Cars are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks, but that doesn’t relieve the pedestrian of the requirement to pay attention and have reasonable expectations about how much distance it takes a car to stop.”

It is still evident that there is more at play when it comes to traffic jams than just the number of cars. Traffic jams are mostly caused by unnecessary bottlenecks caused by selfish people both on the ground and behind the wheel. Selfish driving is evident in the number of drivers that fail to yield to other drivers, that block junctions unnecessarily, that stop, turn and park carelessly and that zig zag on the roads.

And, of course, commonly, minibus drivers are culprits of spontaneous and careless law-breaking on the road. They stop anywhere, anytime, anyhow. They block roads without caring about other cars in front of or behind them. But, more often than not, we also see other road users engaging in such tendencies. At times it is the kabaza guy who carelessly overtakes his fellow cyclist without checking the traffic behind him; if not, he has an abnormal load protruding into the main road.

Some accidents are largely avoidable. People just need to be more responsible. It is time the country revolutionised the roads and held everyone responsible. Fines should apply to all road users. Our traffic police should note what all road users are doing, not only motorists. Bicycle owners, pedestrians, minibus drivers and all vehicle owners should follow regulations on the road.

I rest my case

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