The number of road accidents has almost tripled over the past five years, killing roughly 1 300 people annually, The Nation has established.
According to data from the Malawi Police Service (MPS), a total of 30 577 road accidents occurred between 2012 and 2016, claiming 6 492 lives.
That translates to 6115 road accidents and 1 298 deaths per year.
It also represents a 174 percent rise in road calamities and a 28 percent uptick in deaths on average over the past five years.
Law enforcers, policy makers and a road traffic expert say drivers’ carelessness is the major cause of the mishaps.
But the expert and some motorists agree—and our findings from an investigative exercise to be published tomorrow show—that while the official line makes sense, weak law enforcement and dishonesty within the road traffic establishment that, for example, sees cars that are not road worthy being certified fit, are also to blame.
Some motorists even fault the country’s poor roads for the carnages and resultant human toll.
Official line: Blame driver
National Police Headquarters spokesperson James Kadadzera, in an interview last week, blamed the spate of accidents on over-speeding by drivers.
“For us, the biggest cause of accidents in the country is driver behaviour—this is mainly about over-speeding. Another cause, a secondary cause, is the issue of drink and driving. Thirdly, there is the issue of careless overtaking, which is closely related to both drink and driving and over-speeding,” he said.
Director of Road Traffic at National Police Headquarters in Lilongwe MacPherson Matowe said most drivers were irresponsible on the road and that they do not observe roads regulations; hence, most of the accidents are due to human errors.
He said drivers were supposed to observe the 100-kilometre speed limit for small cars and the 80-kilometre limit for big vehicles.
Matowe cited the recent Rivirizi bus accident in which he said the bus skidded about 340 metres before perching on the bridge rails—something showed that the bus was over speeding.
Excitement among young motorists, he said, has also contributed to the tragedies.
“When you look at the age group of those involved in an accident recently you will see that it is between 25 and 45. This is a group of people that are excited on the road, mostly they do not observe laws and are excited with speed,” he said.
Matowe said investigations on most recent accidents, including the Rivirivi bus and the Chirimba truck that swept several cars, for example, indicate that the vehicles were in good condition, but the problem was human error.
Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) spokesperson Angellina Makwecha, in a separate interview, also pushed the small line, saying the department’s statistics show that most fatal and serious accidents are due to over-speeding and general negligence on the part of drivers.
“In terms of traffic law enforcement, you will agree with me that enforcement officers from both DRTSS and Traffic Police are always on the road making routine checks on traffic. With the current road traffic situation, we have intensified day and night enforcements and the outcry from minibus drivers bears testimony,” she said.
Expert view: cuts both ways
Road Safety expert Chifwede Hara said the challenges on the roads in Malawi are double-faced. He said on one hand there is lack of professionalism on the part of traffic authorities and on the other are misguided and incompetent road users.
Hara cites in adequate equipment to detect ‘fake documents’, insufficient resources for road traffic police and DRTSS officials as well as dishonesty of some officials as also contributing to the accidents crisis.
“How honest are the law enforcers? Do they succumb to pressures and bend the laws? Do they have enough resources available to them? How about their salaries?” he wondered.
On the flip side, Hara said there is an attitude problem on the roads.
“Most users know how to change the gear, but do not [have the right] road attitude. Young drivers are in a hurry to drive big vehicles and they are in a hurry to make money. Most drivers do not respect speed limit,” he said.
Hara, a former Road Traffic Directorate head, also said there are a lot of shortcuts in the training of drivers where most users do not go through the full curriculum of driving.
Motorist, victims: It’s the system
One bus driver Vincent Kapeni—who boasts 25 years of driving commuter buses within the country and across the borders—said while over-speeding was a cause of the accidents, the primary cause was poor road network.
“There are many stretches of our roads that make you hold your breath when driving. The roads are narrow; too many potholes and the road signs are misplaced most of the times. For example, signs warning drivers of a bridge are placed [too close] to the bridge, how can that help a driver, especially at night, and who is over-speeding?” argues Kapeni.
Late arrival of Traffic Police at accident scenes does not help matters either.
A Road Safety Programme Professional Driver Training in Malawi report of June-August 2016 noted that Traffic Police mostly arrive too late at accident sites.
One road accident victim, Godfrey Mfiti, sees corruption among road traffic officials as a major contributing factor to the accidents.
Mfiti—a renowned local environmental activist—who said he saw death pay him a blind visit, but somehow, passed him as it consumed 10 fellow passengers on that doomed bus trip from Blantyre to Lilongwe a month ago.
He said he does not understand how the police allowed the bus they were travelling in to pass through the road block when it was obvious that the bus was speeding beyond the recommended limit. Mfiti suspects it was because of corruption. n