Malawi on Saturday commemorated Africa Road Safety Day with the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) decrying an upward trend in road accidents and deaths since 2017 as a drawback to the economy.
In an interview on the sidelines of Africa Road Safety Day which is commemorated on the third Sunday of November, but was observed on Saturday at Liwonde Community ground in Machinga, DRTSS deputy director Annie Kandoje said the country in 2019 reported 10 193 road accidents against 5 331 recorded in 2018.
She said the number of reported road accidents stood at 3 654 in 2017.
Kandoje said: “The causes of these crashes cannot be understated with some taking place alongside busy market places found along the main roads of Malawi.
“Apart from drivers contributing to most of these crashes, other road users such as pedestrians and business people have also been on the contributing end.”
She said that between January and June this year, Malawi has registered 570 fatal crashes with 616 people dying and 472 sustaining critical injuries.
During the corresponding period in 2019, the country registered 528 fatal crashes that killed 625 people and seriously injured 484.
Statistics for the first halves of 2019 and this year represent an eight percent increase in fatal crashes, one percent drop in deaths and two percent decrease in serious injuries.
While pleading with the public to follow road traffic rules and regulations to reverse the upward trend, Kandoje said the directorate alongside Ministry of Transport and Public Works and other stakeholders were working hard to reduce the carnage.
She mentioned awareness and civic education programmes as well as conducting traffic law enforcement initiatives aimed at influencing change among road users to reduce crashes as some of the measures.
Kandoje also said the directorate will also continue engaging the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to identify land for roadside markets.
In a separate interview, Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Nancy Chaola Mdooko, who was also the guest of honour at the event, said it is worrying that the trend shows that those losing their lives are within the age range of 25 to 44 years.
She said: “This is very worrisome considering that this age group is for economically active members of society who could have been contributing to the economic development of the nation.
“It is even sad that these road traffic crashes are becoming an everyday occurrence, but they are both predictable and preventable.”
Mdooko said government in 2014 undertook a road safety assessment of the country’s roads to identify general road safety problems. She said the study identified 70 black spots, with roadside markets dominating the danger spots.
She said the ministry through the Roads Authority (RA) was addressing some of the black spots by putting in place accident mitigation measures such as controlling access into roadways by erecting barriers, speed regulating facilities such as speed humps rumble strips and preserving road reserves by demolishing illegal developments.
In addition, the deputy minister said the March 2019 fatal accident at Kampepuza Trading Centre roadside market in Ntcheu
District, which claimed 21 lives, should have been a wake-up call for roadside vendors nationwide. She said the Kampepuza accident was a “sad moment that should not be allowed to happen again”.
On March 22 2019, a truck rammed into the roadside market killing 21 people, 17 of them on the spot and injuring nearly 31 others, including children as young as four years old.
The truck carried relief maize for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs. The driver, 62-year-old Kiyuson Chimkango, was charged with causing death by reckless driving.
Two weeks after the accident, Malawi Local Government Association chief executive officer Charles Chunga indicated in an interview with The Nation that they were holding meetings at various levels to find a lasting solution to roadside markets that have been a cause of worry.
But while police and the directorate largely attribute human error for 80 per cent of the accidents with weather and infrastructure challenges accounting for the remaining 20 per cent, a Nation Publications Limited investigation in 2017 established that loopholes and corruption at the traffic directorate also worsen the situation.
The investigation also established that unqualified people are able to get driver’s licences while unroadworthy vehicles ply the roads using counterfeit permits or certificates of fitness dubiously issued for vehicles not examined.
Roadside markets that have been a cause of concern, especially on their designated market days, include Jenda in Mzimba, Mponela in Dowa, Wakawaka in Lilongwe, Dedza Roadblock, Bembeke Turn- Off and Chimbiya in Dedza, Lizulu, Tsangano Turn-Off and Kampepuza in Ntcheu, Mangochi Turn-Off in Balaka and Nkando in Mulanje.
This year’s Africa Road Safety Day was commemorated under the theme Stop Roadside Vending, Save Lives. The day was set aside by the African Union (AU) to remember victims of road accidents.
The directorate estimates that road accidents are the ninth leading cause of deaths across all age groups, accounting for 1.35 million lives worldwide annually.
It is also estimated that 90 percent of road traffic deaths and injuries occur in low and middle income countries yet such countries only account for 54 percent of the worlds registered vehicles.