By Lenin Ndebele
ON the night of Friday, September 16, a bus carrying 70 people careered off the road after the driver failed to negotiate a curve in northern Zambia..
Twenty-two people were killed on the spot after the Power Tools bus, travelling from Nakonde in Muchinga district and heading to Kitwe in the Copperbelt region, overturned and trapped several dozen people inside.
Then, as police responders tried to free people from the wreckage, a speeding haulage truck loaded with maize rammed into them, killing three police officers and injuring six others.
In the chaos, another out-of-control haulage truck struck a tow-truck that had been summoned to recover the bus wreckage. Its driver survived, jumped out and disappeared in the darkness.
In the wake of the accident, police chiefs mourning their colleagues killed so needlessly pressed the government to take steps to curb the carnage on Zambia’s roads.
The response from President Edgar Lungu – who issued a statement from New York to express his “deep distress” over the loss of life – has been swift, and drastic.
Lungu vowed that “solutions will be found to curb this trend on my watch”. “I promise you that. I want to see an end to this senseless loss of lives,” he added.
This week, the government published Statutory Instrument 76 of 2016 banning night driving by long-distance haulage trucks and public buses.
Transport Minister Brian Mushimba said public service vehicles and freight trucks should park between 9PM and 5AM starting from November 27.
“We have instructed relevant authorities, including all citizens, to impound public service vehicles abrogating these regulations,” Mushimba added.
According to Zambia’s Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), 55 percent of road traffic accidents happen at night.
According to the RTSA, road traffic accidents claimed over 20,000 lives between 2012 and the second quarter of 2016 – an average of 5,000 per year.
And RTSA Chief Executive Officer, Zindaba Soko, said the agency will work together with the police to ensure that the new law is implemented.
Minister Mushimba also called for private sector investment in truck stop infrastructure and overnight bus stops with internationally acceptable standards.
The implementation of the night driving curfew will be closely watched by other countries in the region, who are all battling to contain road carnage, especially at night.
In Zimbabwe, an average 1,900 people are killed in road accidents every year, while in Namibian an average 700 people lose their lives on the roads annually.
In South Africa, which has the highest volume of cars on the road in the region, the government says 14,000 people lose their lives in car crashes annually, a figure disputed by the South Africans Against Drunk Driving group, which says it is more likely 20,000 or 25,000 a year based on hospital statistics.
Collapsed, inadequate or failing railway infrastructure in most countries in Southern Africa has meant that goods are moved across the region in haulage trucks, which are often driven at night.
The ban on night driving will likely hit transport and logistics companies while causing delays in the movement of goods.
Long distance and cross-border buses will also be hit hard by the new restrictions, as many start off their journeys at night in order to reach border control during less busy hours.