As the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elelections loom, political parties must say something about road safety which affects pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.
Road safety in Malawi require solutions at several fronts: development and implementation of a national strategic plan, strengthening the capacity of institutions, improving data collection and dissemination, implementing measures targeted at specific groups at risk such as children and incorporating safety into road designs and development.
This month, police mentioned a nearly 60 percent rise in reported traffic incidents for 2017.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Status Report projects that by 2020, health costs of road accidents will rank second only to those of HIV and Aids–putting a huge strain on the country’s limited healthcare budget.
About 20 road traffic collisions occur every day, two of which are fatal. Approximately a third of these road accidents kill two people on the scene, especially pedestrians.
Last year alone, 2 459 Malawians died in road accidents, a 28 percent increase from 2 343 in 2016.
The most economically productive citizens, aged 15 to 45, are the worst hit.
Over 50 percent of road users involved in accidents sustained some injury and 17 percent of them died on the scene.
The highest proportion of fatalities involved pedestrians, representing 42 percent of death on the scene.
These deaths may be related to poor post-collision care at the accident’s scene, delayed emergency services and lack of ambulance services and pre-hospital teams. Emergency and trauma teams remain disorganised and often non-existent.
Even on arrival in hospitals, casualties face additional challenges, especially lack of equipment, surgeons, anesthetists as well as surgical nurses in operating theatres and intensive care units.
Compared to drivers, pedestrians had the highest odds of mortality at 95 percent, followed by cyclists.
Malawi, like most African countries, has few registered vehicles, but suffers high carnage. The country lacks policies for protecting vulnerable road users and promoting investment in public transportation.
Primary causes of accidents include inconsiderate and reckless driving, over-speeding and overloading. Overloading affects vehicle handling. Besides, the road network is inadequate compared to the population and other regions of the world. Most roads are narrow, unpaved and lack regular maintenance.
Undifferentiated lanes for pedestrians, motor vehicles and cyclists resulting in crowding of narrow roads. Encroaching vegetation further narrows numerous rural roads, making them unsafe for vehicles and pedestrians.
Also to blame is the condition of vehicles, with massive importation of 10 to 15-year-old used cars.
Injuries are numerous and fatal when commuters sit on the roofs or at the back of moving open vehicles or crowded flat-bed trucks.
Use of handheld devices also distracts drivers and reduces their ability to control the vehicle.
There is also an influx of passenger vehicles modified by local craftsmen not familiar with safety. This increases the likelihood of both accident and injury.
Deficiencies in both infrastructure and road safety enforcement fail to separate road users and protect pedestrians from injury.
Changing or emphasising road safety laws may reduce traffic collision and fatalities.
According to WHO, effective measures include adherence to road safety codes, regular road maintenance, compulsory seatbelt use, ending drink driving laws and enforcement of speed limits in trading centres, compulsory use of helmets for cyclists, banning use of handheld devices when driving.