Bus accidents and negligence

THESE are just idle and idealistic musings by a lawyer about what used to be, what could be and what ought to be. In the 21st century, people do not have to die violently like trapped animals.

guest column: MIRIAM T MAJOME

At least 50 innocent people whose only crime was to travel on buses died in a horrific side-swipe in Rusape two weeks ago. It is common cause and speculation what happened on that fateful early November day, when two buses side-swiped.

Yesterday, dozens others were burnt to death in another accident involving a bus.

Such needless waste of life and a horrific way to die. What does it take to make our people realise that a motor vehicle is just a killing machine, which needs a huge sense of responsibility and self-discipline.

It is lost on many people that bad driving begets traffic accidents. It is very simple. Accidents are not caused by black magic or juju or kuromba, as surprisingly a number of people suggest on various platforms. That is an embarrassing thing to hear from grown-up people.

When juju becomes an accepted explanation of calamity and in this case vehicle accidents, it takes away attention and focus from the appalling and negligent driving standards and encourages and absolves negligent driving. Instead, the focus should be put on devising ways of restoring responsible and safe driving and stemming the deteriorating driving standards.

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There have been many suggestions proffered about how to lessen road accidents such as fitting speed control devices, safety wheels, speed cameras, undergoing defensive driving courses, among others. All of them could help in their different ways to ease the rate and impact of accidents.

Accidents are mainly caused by speeding and negligence. This is what needs to be addressed. There is also a very important mechanism within the law, but it has been set aside for no good reason except enforcement ineptitude. Legislators came up with one of the best mechanisms to control speed and infuse order and discipline in the public transport sector.

Bus timetables

Once upon a time, buses plying rural and urban routes had timetables which they had to strictly adhere to. Bus timetables are not about mere good customer relations. They are a legal requirement that help enforce order and instil discipline within the public transport sector, as they control driver speed.

Operators are fined for being out of sync with their timetables. Anyone who used to use rural-bound buses can testify on how strict the system of timetables was back in the day, before the police became openly corrupt after the year 2000.

The Road Motor Traffic Act Chapter 13;15 Section 13(1) prescribes that after a route authority has been given, the transport service should publish an approved timetable and bus fares once a week for two weeks along the route the service will operate. However, nobody seems to care anymore and it is a free-for-all sector.

Public transport vehicles are left to their own whims and it is a total shambles. The police long since ceased caring and the public transport sector is now free for all. The strange thing is when the police were on the roads, they were all over but were busy chasing money and other minor things and lining their pockets. They turned a blind eye, while allowing the anarchy to breed. With the way the country’s roads were policed before November 2017 one would have expected Zimbabwe to have the most disciplined drivers and the safest driving record in the world.

There is no structured public transport policy in the country, since the urban transport sector was deregulated in the 1990’s. This led to the present informal system where there are many different public transport operators, each operating loosely and independently with no clearly defined structure.

The majority of the people in the country’s urban centres commute to work in commuter omnibuses and private vehicles. Consequently, the public transport sector records the highest incidence of traffic accidents, because of the high volumes of traffic and a poor driving culture and general lack of discipline.

This is attributable to the informal structure and lack of proper regulation of the industry. The public transport sector is a largely free-for-all sector with no standardised quality control mechanisms. Accidents involving commuter omnibuses have claimed tens of thousands of lives and injuries and damage to valuable property.

The law – No fault insurance cover

Vehicle insurance law is set out in the Road Traffic Act Chapter 13:11. It prescribes for compulsory insurance against third party risks arising out of the use of motor vehicles. All public transport vehicles are compelled to have at least third party passenger insurance.

In Section 38, no person is allowed to drive a public service vehicle carrying passengers on any road unless the vehicle is validly insured and has an insurance policy. The insurance cover has to be provided by a validly registered insurance company. The insurance has to pay out to claimants the financial benefits stipulated as the allowable minimum benefits.

The Minister of Transport is in charge of reviewing the scale of benefits in line with prevailing conditions in order to keep them practical and useful.
The amounts stated in the Act are obsolete so they cannot be used. Passenger insurance is not affected by the driver’s fault as it does not matter whether or not the bus driver was to blame for the accident.

Passenger victims are liable to claim compensation for losses sustained in accidents no matter what or which driver was to blame. Their beneficiaries can also claim compensation in the event of their death. Every person who suffers loss as a result of an accident is liable to claim compensation for the loss. The loss has to be provable.

Examples of loss are death, permanent disability or bodily injury to victims and loss to property such as in the recent accident.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on enquiries@legalpractitioners.org

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