Debate rages on social media about safety on Malawian roads

In the wake of recent fatal accidents involving commuter buses on Malawian roads, several of the suspected factors of these accidents range from overspeeding, unroadworthy vehicles, driver fatigue among others, as indicated by a hot debate that raged on on social media.

People in the course of rescuing survivors at
the scene of the Ntcheu accident.-photo by Mana

A concerned seasoned logistician, Mike Mabvuto Missih, working for one of Malawi’s  transport industry, Zagaf Transport, posted on Facebook what was on his mind that Passenger Welfare Association of Malawi has a huge task to ensure that commuters are safe by doing routine checks on buses carrying passengers, controlling over speeding and checking alcohol and drug levels on drivers.

He also said drivers should be swapped on long return routes and to avoid overloading as well as the use of roadworthy buses, discouraging revenue targets and to check working conditions of the drivers.

“[This is] free advice from a seasoned logistician,” he said. “To other motorists, let’s avoid over speeding, let’s plan for our journeys, let’s avoid drink and drive. Stop and do stretches to avoid fatigue.”

On minibus, which are usually the ones involved in most accidents, Missih asked if the owners employ qualified drivers just like fuel transporters are required to do.

“Fuel tankers are fitted with satellite tracking and drivers attend classes on safety to be well equipped. Standards are put that no tanker is allowed on the roads after 6pm. Once found, the driver is banned or fined.

“I wish the same applied to passenger transport. Each bus has capacity but we overload, at the back it’s written 80km/hr as speed limit but it goes beyond. Fatigue on drivers, then you wonder who checks on all these.

“Do we have breatherlysers to check on our drivers. [If you checked] at Mibawa [minibus terminus in Blantyre, you are bound to] see these minibus drivers drinking [from liquor] sachets. Who is supposee to monitor them before they go on the roads [carrying passengers]?” Missih asked.

In response, Bright Chikaonda said this issue is complex but manageable just like the transport industry is doing with fuel tankers.

“It’s the chaos that is in the passenger service that breeds such accidents. I was consulted to do Root Cause Analysis for one of the then big bus companies which has gone under. My findings were SHOCKING for lack of a better word. [There was ] no pre and post trip vehicle checks, no driver debriefs, no fatigue management, no investment in driver training and refresher courses.

“We have a huge task in this area — no wonder that company is history. You entrust millions of kwacha worth of a bus in the hands of someone you are not willing to invest in [such as] their training and expect them to bring the money. Back in the days at Stagecoach, each bus coming in from a route had to go for a ‘bumper to bumper’ check before embarking on the next trip.

“There was [always an expert] who would certify it fit by doing a test drive within the yard before the bus was allocated to a driver. This may sound over the top but it’s good practice. Today buses just make U-turns at Wenela or Lilongwe depots as long as they are ‘okay’ in their gut feeling,” Chikaonda said.

In his response, Chimwemwe Ajassi posed the question: “Does the Passenger Welfare Association has the capacity to deliver what has been mentioned above? My take is that the Police, Road Traffic, Ministry of Transport and the Passenger Association have to work together to deliver the above.

“First and foremost, an enquiry of what is causing these frequent accidents should be done in order to thoroughly understand how to apply the mitigating solutions from lessons learnt. Our legislatures should also be pushing for laws which protect the passengers.”

In agreement to Ajassi, Missih responded by asking what is the role of the Passenger Welfare Association: “Are they using qualified professionals in the field? Someone is not doing his job properly. The only time you hear their voice is when there is an increase in bus fare.

“Underline the word ‘passenger welfare’ then find out whether those entrusted to run the association whether they’ve gone through any passenger transport trainings. Do you remember the Highway Code booklet in those days? Find out whether these drivers know anything about it yet we entrust them [with the safety of the passengers].

“Do you remember at UTM — all drivers had to go for training whether you had a driver’s licence or not. They had routine checks plus they attended classes. My college mate Bright Chikaonda will agree with me. Now the question is; where do you train these drivers or you just give them the bus as long as he has a driver’s licence?”

Mongie Gersom Damaseke Migochi asked if defensive driving is still requirement: “I feel we need to emphasize on that. We need to bring [experts] people back into the system so that people can learn to drive [defensively]. We have a problem with handing out of driver’s licence.”

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Chilungamo Chimawawa
Chilungamo Chimawawa
7 years ago

In Zambia no big buses and trucks are allowed to move on Zambia roads at night. can we borrow a leaf from that??????????????

7 years ago

The other issue may be on transport management systems, you wonder how can the whole truck enter into the center of the city (pa lambat) and start offloading cement kkkk and even some trucks are driven into our plot roads fully loaded ndiye ndi misewu yokomoka atimangirayi upeza anyenyanso kkkk osakaima ku kanengo bwanji? kenako nkumabweretsa ntown using smaller vehicles, basi the whole truck kwa magalasi?

Peter Siwo
Peter Siwo
7 years ago

Well said. Let us heed to good advice.

7 years ago

the problem is overload, you can see other passengers standing from Lilongwe to Mzuzu as well as from Lilongwe to Blantyre. we need to change this we only need sited passengers only. and night buses are the worst over loaders

7 years ago
Reply to  mose

Police officers seem to allow or turn a blind eye to many inappropriate or criminal acts on the roads eg overloading, overspeeding, worn-out tyres, drunken drivers, un-roadworthy vehicles, reckless driving, etc contribute significantly to accident risks on roads. The numbers of “officers” deployed & the number of roadblocks do not seem to curb our notoriety of being high on list of most dangerous roads. Perhaps this is their silent way of protesting against poor housing and pay. Other factors is general attitudes of of “freedom” or entitlement of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

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