HAPPY New Year to all. Thank you to the readers of this column and feedback received throughout 2015. We mourn and remember the many lives needlessly lost on the roads during this and all past holiday seasons. The death toll was at 130 at the time of writing.
We look forward to a time when we no longer automatically associate Christmas with an increase of road accidents and bloodshed. For those who lost loved ones during Christmas there is nothing merry about it as it only becomes a season of sadness and painful remembrance. For most of us it is back to the usual humdrum of our lives, meaning we are back on the roads and to the scourge of bad driving.
One growing menace is civilian drivers who behave as if they aspire to be commuter omnibus drivers. These wanna-be kombi drivers are even more dangerous because at least with kombi drivers we know what to expect and have evolved cautionary instincts around them. But if a huge intimidating SUV looms from nowhere and nearly sideswipes you and your precious little ex-Jap off the road to cut in front of you, then you know you are dealing with a hitherto unknown dangerous species of driver.
There is nothing like Seke Road or Simon Mazorodze Road at the Mbudzi roundabout or indeed any other feeder road into the Harare city centre at 7:40am.
Only the toughest drivers survive those moments of complete lawlessness when the law of the jungle takes over on the roads. Those moments of exasperation will convert even the most ardent creationist to Darwin’s theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest.
New road regulations and fines have been gazetted commencing January 1. It is vital for all road users to acquaint themselves with them. Enquiries about copies of the statutory instruments can be directed to Government Printers. We will examine some of the road offences prescribed in the Road Traffic Act Chapter 13:11. Breaching road traffic rules is criminal and convictions carry custodial sentences and fines. Penalty points can be given and can result in revocation of driving licences. If offenders do not admit guilt and want to defend themselves, summons should be issued within 14 days of committal of the offence.
Minimum and maximum age for driving
The minimum age for licenced driving is 16 years old, 18 for heavy vehicles, 25 for public service buses and commuter omnibuses. The maximum age for driving commuter omnibus and public service vehicles is 70. Breaching the maximum limit can result in a prison sentence of six months to two years without the option of a fine. Impersonation, unauthorised use of driving documents and forgery are serious crimes.
Negligent, reckless or dangerous driving
These offences refer to speed and generally other manner of dangerous driving. These include driving without due care and attention or consideration for other road users, for example, texting or tweeting when driving. Exceeding speed limits and under-speeding (Section1a) are both punishable offences. A charge for negligent or dangerous driving will factor in the condition, nature and use of the road and amount of traffic.
Driving with prohibited concentration of alcohol and/or drugs in blood
Driving or attempting to drive a vehicle on the road with at least 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood is prohibited. 80 milligrams of alcohol is equivalent to three to four units of drink for the average built man and two to three units for an average built woman. For a combination of drugs and alcohol the minimum limit is 150 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. If the legal intoxication limit is exceeded it is presumed the driver is incapable of proper control of the vehicle and proper assessment of the road conditions and driving environment. Recently the NewsDay Weekender ran a shockingly disturbing exposé of the extent of the illicit drugs trade and usage that has gripped the country.
Few people will admit to having a problem with alcohol. It takes extraordinary personal strength and honesty to admit to a drinking problem. This is the reason Alcoholics Anonymous meetings personal introductions have to begin with a vocalised admission to the problem. Few, if any, drunk drivers ever think they are too drunk to drive genuinely believing they have it all under control.
Of pubs and full car parks
It generally takes a high level of sophistication in a society to own up to a common problem and do something personally and collectively about it. Some societies have accepted the scientific studies that directly link drunk driving with increased accidents. Enlightened revellers will refrain from drinking and driving more than those who choose to ignore or refuse to accept this scientific fact. Such responsible people will tend to use taxis or car pool where one of them abstains from drinking in order to do the driving.
Our society needs to get to that level of sophistication and collective personal awareness, but for now no one is particularly disturbed by the sight of fully subscribed car parks at drinking places. The police always work tirelessly to rid public drinking nuisance by raiding drinking places and fining offenders. Public drinking has its evils, but they are far less than those of drunken driving. The police should seriously consider mounting regular blitzes on pub and night club car parks and nab potential drunk drivers as even attempting to drive while legally intoxicated is a criminal offence. For as long as drunks can stagger and stumble off to the car park and swerve their killing machines away scot-free, then more people will continue to die and be injured by drunk drivers every major public holiday.
Nevertheless, the penalty for repeated drunk driving is severe. Commuter omnibus or heavy vehicle driver repeat offenders convicted three times face a lifelong driving ban.
Throwing litter from vehicles
There is nothing more vile than the sight of litter being flung from moving vehicles. Those with the poshest cars do this more than anyone else. And that is a fact — I think! They daren’t spoil their well-appointed leather upholstery and customised interiors with tasteless plastic empty cool drink bottles. Flinging objects at moving vehicles and disturbing drivers in motion is also a serious criminal offence.
Lastly, another offence is boarding a vehicle in motion. However, some of our very hard-working mahwindis (touts) do not seem to know this. In fact, they think it’s rather pretty cool and macho to be seen by girls moving around town hanging precariously onto mshikashika (pirate taxis) as they cruise about town. But, no, it does not look macho, but just looks plain stupid.
lMiriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on email@example.com