by Malindi M. Chatora and John Mututwa
Drivers in Lusaka will now have to exercise extra caution when driving following the deployment of roadside speed cameras by the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) and the Zambia Police.
A recent report by RTSA lists speeding as the leading cause of fatalities from road traffic crashes (RTCs). Zambia recorded 30,163 RTCs in 2017, a meagre 6.8 percent reduction from the 32,350 recorded in 2016. Lusaka alone accounts for nearly half of these RTCs, and a third of road fatalities. By furnishing roads with speed cameras, RTSA and Zambia Police hope that they will compel motorists to drive at safe speeds, thereby reducing the occurrence of RTCs.
Currently, speed cameras have been introduced along Kafue, Great East, Airport and Mumbwa Roads. These roads are known to carry the most traffic and have been identified as having high risk of traffic violations and RTCs. However, motorists should not become accustomed to the cameras being in the same spot as they are not fixed, per se. They will be moved to different locations depending on where traffic officers perceive over-speeding to be a common occurrence. Offending motorists will be issued automated offence reports via electronic means such as SMS. As with other traffic offences, offending motorists will be given seven days to settle their fines. Motorists who choose to ignore these notices risk having their cases heard in court. Motorists with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to renew their road tax and will be denied other services until their cases are settled.
The question that inevitably arises is whether speed cameras are effective in reducing RTCs. As it turns out, a large amount of research shows that speed cameras actually reduce the number of RTCs. A 2010 review of studies investigating the efficacy of speed cameras reveals fewer crashes and fatalities in areas that had speed cameras, across a number of high-income countries. These studies show that the reduction in RTCs ranged from 8 percent to 49 percent, and 11 percent to 44 percent for fatal and serious injury crashes, respectively. Interestingly, these studies also show that RTCs fell even in areas beyond the camera sites.
In attempting to draw conclusions from other countries, it is important to realise that significant contextual differences may exist between Zambia and those countries that have recorded positive results. Road and vehicle conditions, driver training, driving culture and general regard for rules in Zambia may vary significantly from those in other countries, making precise comparison difficult. A recent RTSA report shows that driver practices such as cutting in, overtaking improperly and failing to obey other traffic rules as well as road and vehicle defects contribute to RTCs in Zambia. This implies that although Zambia may see a reduction in RTCs from the installation of speed cameras, it is unlikely to be as much as in other countries.
Therefore, the country needs to reinforce other road safety measures if the reduction in RTCs is to mirror what is observed in other countries. Specifically, authorities should strengthen road safety education campaigns if all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, are to appreciate the benefits of road safety measures. This is especially so considering that pedestrians account for nearly half (49 percent) of all road fatalities. Hence, authorities should intensify efforts to raise awareness on safe road crossing behaviour among pedestrians and cyclists. Measures such as sidewalk, cycling lanes, and clearly marked pedestrian crossing points are also essential to reducing the risk of accidents among this group of road users.
Improving Zambia’s road safety profile will also entail managing the behaviour of motorists to minimise tendencies such as drink driving and disregard of traffic rules. Law enforcement agencies must continue to impose strict and harsh penalties on motorists violating traffic rules and regulations. Improving signage of speed limits, speed humps and other traffic calming measures, including providing signage reminding motorists that their speed is being monitored, can help manage motorist behaviour.
Although motor vehicle defects do not rank high on the causes of RTCs, ensuring better motor vehicle conditions can also contribute to overall road safety. The Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR) report on “Used Motor Vehicle Imports and the Impact on Transportation in Zambia” reveals that the proportion of motor vehicles without roadworthiness certification more than doubled from 14 percent in 2006 to 32 percent in 2013. Given that some RTCs and road fatalities have been linked to faulty vehicles, authorities should strictly enforce vehicle fitness measures. For example, vehicles with faulty tyres and brakes, defective lights, and smashed windscreens should not be allowed to operate on public roads.
Clearly, there is a lot of scope for enhancing road safety through the use of speed cameras as presented by evidence from other countries. However, for us to comprehensively see greater benefits from their installation, other aspects of road safety like road safety awareness campaigns and road signage must also be prioritised as well.