Zambia police must shun graft to reduce road carnage

Most Zambians have little contact with law enforcement authorities. Indeed for many motorists and passengers, their only frequent interface with law enforcement will be with a traffic officer.

Every day mini-bus or taxi passengers bear close witness to their vehicle being pulled up, often for no discernible reason, by a traffic officer, the driver getting out of his vehicle, walking over and handing over the bribe.

The impact that this has upon ordinary citizens is immeasurable. On the basis of their daily experience, they conclude that the vast majority of police officers are ‘for sale’. And the impact on the rule of law is incalculable.

Many motorists would argue that there is no point in obeying the rules because, whether or not they obey them, they will be harassed and held up by traffic officers who know only too well that the simple expedient of reducing the driver’s number of trips by one eliminates his margins for the day. This is what happens when the law is put up for sale.

Does this mean that we should scrap and transfer the traffic police into the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA)?

In my opinion, the answer is No.

Fear of crime

Many criminals use the road network in the planning and commission of their crimes. Proactive road policing can deny criminals the unchallenged use of the roads, and is an effective measure for preventing and detecting crime and it is only the police that can do that.

A visible police presence is invaluable in reducing the fear of crime and reassuring the law abiding public. Road policing is well positioned to deliver these outcomes, as the road network is essential for the movement of criminals. It impacts on all critical areas of police business – reducing road casualties, disrupting criminality, countering terrorism, anti-social driving, and patrolling the roads.

The roadside encounter presents essential intelligence gathering opportunities and the potential for stopping and disrupting criminal activity by road policing officers.

The roads are an integral part of our public space populated with its own transient community. Patrolling is vital for public reassurance. Visible patrols signify to the public that compliance with traffic law is being monitored and that potential and actual offenders are being deterred and detected.

Effective policing of the roads is therefore an important and visible element of the police service’s commitment to protect the public and provide them with assistance. Well ordered roads are central to the social and economic wellbeing of our country.

Safety of others

However, the police should direct their focus at those high harm offenders who pose the greatest risks to the safety of others.

The number of road deaths on Zambian roads increased from 1,858 in 2014 to 2,206 in 2016, representing an increase of 18 per cent rise. Therefore, there is much work to be done to save lives on our roads. These statistics are only available from the police.

The police service plays an important role providing collision detail and through the highlight of trends and issues found at accident sites, through the monitoring and enforcing of poor driver behaviour and difficulties found at sites.

The highest possible reductions in road casualties cannot be achieved by enforcement and education of offenders alone. The police should be working in partnership with the many other valuable partners who share the same objectives or have a stake in reducing road casualties, in particular and most importantly RTSA, corporate like Puma Energy Zambia and the civil societies such as the Zambia Road Safety Trust.

Working with partners and stakeholders can help shift public attitude and behaviour to one of habitual compliance with the laws and conventions of the road.

Greater reliance

To engage better with ALL road users will require the Zambia police to find the appropriate balance between education, engineering and enforcement.

The police should be encouraged to place greater reliance on the discretion and professional judgement of their individual officers. This will enhance both public satisfaction and confidence – in short their purpose is to save lives and reduce (road) crime.

Indeed effective enforcement by the police that is supported by the improvements in road engineering and education will help reduce the number of people killed on our roads.

The remedial education that works in tandem with enforcement will achieve improved road safety outcomes. The police must focus on road users who pose the highest threat of harm whilst responding appropriately to those who have shown a momentary lapse of judgement or care.

In short, the police must focus on relationship with road users in which they work together to fulfil the vision of a “safe and secure environment for all road users”. They should be a greater emphasis on enforcement based on professional discretion and judgement, increasing the number of potential enforcement interactions that result in education.

Seriously injured

Each casualty on the road represents an avoidable personal tragedy and if fatal, costs the Zambian public purse K5 billion per year. The principle causation factors of road death and injury involve alcohol or excess speed singularly or in combination.

Pedestrians still continue to represent a disproportionate number of the overall killed and seriously injured (KSI) rates, amounting to almost 50 per cent of all fatalities. Most of these deaths have been attributed to a lack of road safety sense by pedestrians, according to a survey carried out by RTSA in 2016.

The police must work with the government to help inform the legislative framework and must find better ways of engaging with those identified as most at risk of harm caused by others. The police need to work with partners to adopt a balanced approach between enforcement and education.

They need to continue to develop alternative disposals so that police officers, where appropriate, can use their discretion to tackle errant driver behaviour such as careless and aggressive driving, the use of mobile phones, careless driving, seatbelt offences, and excess speed.

Mr Mwamba is Chairman for the Zambia Road Safety Trust; a research, education and advocacy organisation. (daniel.mwamba@zambianroadsafety.org)

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