BEFORE the army-led Operation Restore Legacy, the occurrence of road accidents in Zimbabwe was attributed to failure by the traffic police to stem road carnage, as they were only keen to collect money from traffic offenders, without arresting unlicensed drivers or impounding unroadworthy vehicles.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
This resulted in a number of defective cars, overloaded vehicles and those without proper documentation freely operating on the roads, at the expense of human life.
The dawn of the new dispensation resulted in the removal of traffic police from the roads and a reduction in the number of roadblocks along major highways, a move motorists received with joy.
However, the roadblock-free festive season turned out to be the bloodiest, leaving experts in agreement that human error is the major cause of road accidents in Zimbabwe.
Allegations are that the Vehicle Investigations Department (VID) has been churning out half-baked drivers in exchange for money.
An instructor with a top driving school, who declined to be named, said despite government’s efforts to stamp out corruption at VID depots, it seemed to be a futile exercise, as the officials say they have a target number of licences to be issued per day.
“For instance, you take seven young people, who are all exceptional in driving.
“Out of the seven, you have two, who have $150 for the bribe.
“Upon testing, the two get the licences leaving the other five without.
“The next move is that the remaining five will then inquire from those who passed and this would result in corruption,” he said.
“So, the VID should not work with a target per day, but issue licences to those that deserve.
“We have a number of good drivers, but because of corruption, we are at risk.”
It is alleged that to get a driver’s licence, one has to fork out $150 as bribe.
Transport and Infrastructure Development minister, Joram Gumbo, who says he is monitoring activities at VID, acknowledged that Zimbabwe is losing millions of dollars per year, as accidents gobble from national coffers.
“It is shocking to note that Africa, with about 20% of the total world vehicle population, accounts for 80% of the total world road crashes,” he said.
“In low and middle-income countries, the cost of road traffic injuries is estimated at up to $100 billion dollars a year, money that could be spent on schools, hospitals and economic development.
“Road traffic injuries cost countries between 1% and 2% of their gross national product.
“An analysis of errors committed by some of our drivers makes one wonder whether they are licensed to drive these vehicles.
“We will not hesitate to descend heavily on any culprits implicated in soliciting for bribes and giving bribes in order to obtain a licence to drive a motor vehicle.”
A 2014 Global Corruption Perception Index report released by Transparency International ranked Zimbabwe 156 out of 175 of highly corrupt countries in the world.
Gumbo recently vowed to stamp out corruption at VID and even threatened to fire all corrupt officials.
However, people, who spoke to NewsDay Weekender, said corruption should not be blamed on VID officials only, but was now a nationwide cancer and instead, they also blamed the state of the country’s roads.
“Let us talk of human error after all is in perfect condition, especially the roads.
“Some of the cars from Europe have bright lights that have detrimental effects, as some road users have poor eyesight,” a commuter omnibus driver in Marondera, Paul Mashaya, said.
Recently, Gumbo announced that about 54 VID officials were fired over corruption, while 199 licences were cancelled.
Passenger Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) director, Tafadzwa Goliath, hailed the clampdown on corrupt VID officials and said this will go a long way in reducing carnage on major roads.
“We condemn the colluding of driving schools’ instructors and VID in corruptly issuing drivers’ licences and issuing of fitness certificates to unroadworthy vehicles.
“However, we applaud the weeding out of these bad elements in VID, as proven by the dismissal of 54 VID officers for graft” he said.
Goliath concurred that road accidents cost the nation millions of dollars.
“Road accidents are a major public health problem and given the fact that most of those killed or disabled by road carnage are young and economically active people, hence, the cost on the economy is significant.
“Already, our hospitals are strained in terms of medication and human resources and this is further exacerbated by the fact that thousands of people are killed or injured every year on our roads.
“Government has, in the past, assisted victims of road carnage that were declared national disasters.
“Statistics also reveal that the economy loses more than $400 million dollars annually,” he said.
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO) official, Ngoni Katsvairo, said despite the clean-up at VID, there is need for all drivers to obtain defensive drivers certificates (DDC).
“As an additional measure to curb accidents, we urge the government to ensure that every driver, who obtains a driver’s licence passes through DDC before they start driving.
“During that process, they can also be required to go through practical road tests by TSCZ officers.
“The DDC must not be limited to public service vehicle drivers only.”