Police must do more to curb accidents

HARARE - The talk outside churches was about how many 16-year-olds received a car and $150 for Christmas.

The cars are second-hand cheap Japanese imports and the $150 is for buying a driving licence.

Ever tried to get a driving licence without paying a bribe? Every step of the process from the learners’ licence to the road test is littered with officials who want their “cut”.

This time last year, it couldn’t be done for anything less than $500 but now, if you know the right people, you can do it for $150. Another $50 is needed to actually get the metal licence unless you are prepared to wait the three years it takes for the licence to arrive in the post.

A few undercover journalists could expose this cesspool of corruption very easily.

By New Year Day, half way through the 30-day annual Christmas road death tally, 163 Zimbabweans were dead.

How many died as a result of drivers who had bought their drivers licences?

Much of our criticism at the horrific Christmas road deaths was aimed at the police.

Foolishly, we assumed that because there are police road blocks every 10 kilometres, there would be far fewer accidents this year.

But in reality, we have all witnessed these road blocks where police are not checking headlights, dip lights, tyres, hand brakes, indicators, hooters or even driving licences.

Sometimes they are checking fire extinguishers or car radio licences but mostly they are just stopping commuter omnibuses where money changes hands.

The Transport ministry is also to blame. For hundreds of kms in most directions from the capital, there are no reflective white centre-line markings or yellow shoulder line markings or the paint is so faint it is invisible.

Road edges are so steeply eroded, it is impossible for vehicles to get off the road and stop safely, let alone swerve to avoid an obstacle or oncoming vehicle. Travel at night is perilous: no cat’s eyes — corners without luminous paint chevrons and towns and cities with no street lights.

The tragic Marondera accident on December 28 when a haulage truck ploughed through the middle of a commuter omnibus killing at least seven people highlights everything that is wrong about the situation on our roads.

The accident occurred late on a rainy afternoon along a notoriously busy stretch road where many other accidents have occurred.

Despite press reports quoting the Marondera mayor, there are no sharp curves anywhere near the accident site.

Instead the road edges are steeply eroded while the centre line and verge markings are invisible.

The police attended the scene, victims were assisted but the 30-tonne haulage truck could not be moved and was left partly obstructing the busy highway.

By 8pm that evening, police left the scene, leaving two signs reading “slow down” and “police ahead.”

There were no police officers near the place or at any time during the night at what was a major hazard on the very busy Marondera/Mutare highway.

By 8am the following morning, police had still not returned to control traffic around the accident site and the haulage truck was still obstructing the road.

Hundreds of spectators had gathered and it was only after complaints by the public to Marondera police that a constable arrived at the accident site.

Asked by a resident why traffic police had not remained on site overnight, the constable said they did not stay at accident sites at night because it was too dangerous and they themselves were at risk of being knocked down by passing motorists.

That says it all. - Cathy Buckle

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