UNDOUBTEDLY, road transport remains the largest and main mode of transportation in Zambia with a total road network of over 67, 000 kilometres. As a major transport network, it serves an array of purposes for both travelers and transportation of goods and products.
Travellers and transport operators rely heavily on the road network to transport people, goods and products from one place to the other with an overage of over 7, 000 vehicles traversing the highways on a daily basis. The pressures on these roads often results in road traffic crashes.
This suggests more road usage in Zambia than any other transport mode, but there are limited alternatives. However, safety on the roads has become a major challenge in the country.
Globally, road safety is being tackled as a public health and developmental issue which Zambia is no exception. There is urgent need to attract the attention of all road safety stakeholders to share the burden of road safety to reverse the numbers of road traffic crashes.
These road traffic crashes and casualties pose developmental and public health problems with challenging militating effects against socio-economic development especially for low and middle income countries like Zambia.
Owing to this devastating effect, there is urgent need for cooperative efforts from all fronts to prioritise road safety as a national public health concern.
To be able to achieve this, the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) together with its mother ministry, the Ministry of Transport and Communications and other stakeholders are working hard to make sure that road traffic crashes and injuries are reduced to the minimum levels in line with the set target.
The RTSA was established by an Act of Parliament (Road Traffic Act No.11 of 2002) and became operational in 2006 with the mandate of implementing Government policy on road transport, safety and traffic management. Per this mandate, the RTSA is to play the role of a lead Agency to spearhead and coordinate road safety programmes in the country.
One of the major activities through which the RTSA uses to achieve this mandate is through nationwide road safety education programmes and campaigns.
The importance of road safety education programmes and campaigns cannot be over emphasised. The RTSA generally employs road user educational campaigns to help complement other road safety measures in Zambia.
One major sensitisation tool mostly deployed by RSTA as part of its advocacy efforts is through road safety campaigns.
In the recent past, RTSA has implemented a series of campaigns on road safety anchored on four identified risk focus areas namely; speed, use of cellphone while driving, avoiding driving under the influence of alcohol and correct use of seat belts. It has, as part of its concerted efforts to reduce road crashes also directly addressed the plight of the vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
Thus, the RTSA conducts road safety campaigns that are directly related to pedestrian safety and cyclists. This year, it plans to reduce the rising trend of motor cycle, cyclists and pedestrians related deaths over the past few years.
Ir also plans to carry out massive road safety advocacy to target the major roads across the country. The objective is to advise drivers to minimise their travel speed limits, empower passengers to speak up against driver misconduct and pedestrians to keep to safe walking and crossing practices whilst on the road.
Imperatively, to a large extent the reduction in road crashes statistics that were experienced in 2020 was largely due to the intense work of RTSA, the Zambia Police and its cooperative stakeholders. On the other hand, the level of compliance by drivers, passengers and pedestrians on proper road safety regulations and measures must have been contributing factors to the success.
This comes across to buttress the point that the RTSA’s work alone cannot ensure success unless the beneficiaries being all road users are actively involved.
Road safety campaigns are always motivated by data and packaged to address data-led concerns. In Zambia, available data suggests that road traffic crashes are prominent during holidays and the festive period. Pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and passengers account for nearly 70 percent of the traffic casualties.
This situation is often the consequence of speeding especially in urban and rural highways by drivers and failure by pedestrians to cross and use roads safely and correctly.
Against this backdrop, it is evident that beyond the advocacy work of the RTSA and its implementing stakeholders, the onus of the work also lies on the drivers, passengers and pedestrians who are generally vulnerable road users to adhere and submit themselves to the road safety regulations.
Largely, the adherence levels of road users determine a reduction in the numbers of road fatalities and their resultant impact on the country as a whole. This also reinforces the fact that road safety is a shared and collective responsibility.
Most road users lose the fact that they actually own their safety in their hands once on the road. In Zambia, the second most vulnerable road user class is the passenger.
The reason stems largely from the fact that passengers often assume passive roles and do not speak up against any wrong doing on the roads largely due to the fear of intimidation. RTSA has put road safety in the hands of all road users.
Passengers are encouraged to utilise the RTSA toll free line to report such cases. It has since distributed and placed posters of the toll free line (983) in long distance passenger Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). Reports on bad driver behaviour through the RTSA toll free line has led to several avoidable instances of road crashes.
About 80 percent of causes of road traffic crashes can be attributed to human error. Negative road user behaviour including speeding, drink driving and others contribute to indiscipline on our roads. These crashes have a very huge impact on the productive human resource base of the country especially the youth who happen to be the future of the country.
Road safety is a collective and shared responsibility and we must all have our hands on deck. The RTSA has its part to play as the lead Agency alongside its supporting stakeholders. However, on the other hand, road users also have their parts to play.
It must be a conscious attempt working towards a collective goal. It must be a collective goal and once there is a break within the chain, it affects the level of success.
Therefore, all road users are urged to adopt safety as a culture. We all have a duty to ensure that we have a crash-free Zambia where road traffic crashes and fatalities will be reduced to zero. Road safety a shared and collective responsibility!