Police should do more to reduce road accidents

HARARE - The first time this column appeared in another newspaper a few years ago, I started off by explaining the title.

Lovers of popular music, the Beatles in particular, will recognise it as a song from the Fab Four’s Revolver album.

So I doff my hat to Messrs Lennon and McCartney (its composers) for borrowing the title of one of their most beautiful love songs.

Unfortunately, that column only lasted a few weeks as someone in the editorial who had not been consulted when I was given the nod to start it decided it was one column too many and killed it.

However, the idea of resurrecting it never died.

I also explained why I chose the title.

One of the reasons back then — and now — is that I hope to write from and about wherever my wanderlust takes me.

Anyway enough said as a way of introducing Here, There and Everywhere — the column and not the song — which will appear every Thursday in the Daily News.

So the end of the year or beginning of the year holidays are finally over!

And once again a time that people are supposed to be doing whatever it is they enjoy doing with their loved ones has seen an increasing number of road accident-related deaths.

At the time of writing this piece, close to 170 lives had been lost on our roads in what has become an annual carnage.

All Zimbabweans be they drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians or commuters will agree with me that driving standards have hit a dangerous low in this country.

It just seems everyone is in a hurry to get to wherever they are going even those who are under the influence of alcohol.  

In Harare, running through red lights and using the straight ahead lane to turn right or left at intersections because there are too many cars in the turning lane has become “normal”.

I recently witnessed a near accident when someone did this cutting in front of a lady driver at the lights turning into Newlands Shopping Centre.

The poor woman had to slam on her brakes as the guy, who must think he’s Lewis Hamilton, came within a whisker of hitting her.

I was directly behind her and was saved from rear-ending her car because I had kept a safe distance and was not “in a hurry”.

And it’s not as if the man was unaware of what he was doing because as he was parking at Newlands Shops, I stopped and asked him why he did it.  

Without my explaining what it was he had done, he responded by apologising profusely and promising not to do it again.

Of course the prime transgressors are the kamikaze commuter omnibus or kombi drivers.

To say these guys are a law unto themselves is a major understatement; they drive as though they own the roads! They don’t seem to place any value on the lives of those they will be ferrying.

Whatever the cause, the situation worsens over the festive season when there is an increase in traffic on the country’s highways as people make their way to loved ones or to wherever they may have chosen to spend the holidays.

One would think that the increased traffic on the roads would encourage people to be a bit more careful but the aforementioned spike in road accidents proves the opposite to be the case.

The roads, most of which are in a state of disrepair, do not help.

The increase in fatalities seems to suggest that the police are failing in their role of making sure that the rules of the road are followed.

It is all very well to have an increased police presence on the roads during this period but what’s the point if vehicles that are clearly not roadworthy are allowed through the roadblocks?

We hear of too many drivers losing control of vehicles after a tyre burst.

This implies that the police are not checking the tyres or they are turning a blind eye to threadbare tyres because maybe, as we all know and the police themselves acknowledge, someone will have paid a little something to make them look the other way?

I liked the ZBC reporters who kept asking how that truck that killed 18 in that horrific Hauna accident went past so many roadblocks with its 60-plus passengers even though it was not a passenger vehicle.

On the subject of bribe taking by the police, it’s good to see that it is being acknowledged by the police hierarchy.

I saw one of the police spokespersons on television saying some officers had been suspended for suspected bribe taking.  

Also some senior police officer reportedly saying motorists should not stop at two-cop “bogus” roadblocks as they are set up by police wanting to raise some “extra income”.   

But whether this is enough is another matter.

We all know how widespread the practice is and we also know how brazen the police have become.

They do not even make the fact that they are soliciting and receiving bribes a secret.

On a bus trip from South Africa, I saw money changing hands between the conductor and the police at more than one road block for one infraction or another and no ticket being issued.

The conductor then complained bitterly how they were being squeezed by the cops but they just had to pay so that they would not be held up or pay more in fines.

It is my humble opinion that if the police are going to reduce these needless deaths they should weed out the corrupt elements in their midst and maybe a jail sentence for those found guilty would be a deterrent.
 
 Also, they should not wait until the festive season to come down hard on those who choose to flout road regulations.

Having said that I think we, the citizens of this country, should not aid and abet corruption by paying these greedy police officers what they are not entitled to.

 The way I am busy pointing a finger at others does not mean I am a flawless driver; far from it.

I have been busted three times for breaking the speed limit during the past couple of years.

I paid the full fine in all instances though in two of the cases I was asked to pay a “fine” lower than the real penalty.

 But I insisted on paying what the law requires and demanded my ticket.

If more of us did that we could be part of the solution.

After all it is our lives at stake, not just over the festive season but every day.

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