Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Mixed feelings over use of spikes

Factmore Dzobo Senior Features writer
THE relationship between traffic police and motorists in Bulawayo is like the proverbial cat-and-mouse one.
Traffic police often have running battles with errant commuter omnibus drivers flouting traffic laws and evading arrest. This, in some cases, has resulted in the law enforcement agents throwing tyre deflators or spikes on the road, in the process placing the lives of many commuters in danger.

The situation reached an unprecedented level last week when a traffic police officer allegedly threw spikes in the path of a moving commuter omnibus, never mind the fact that it was full of passengers. This led to an accident that left 16 passengers injured, one of them critically. Tempers boiled over as angry motorists and passersby pelted the police officers with stones, accusing them of throwing the spikes which led to the accident.

It is alleged that the commuter omnibus driver was under age and by law was not supposed to drive a public transport vehicle, so wanted to avoid the police roadblock at all costs.

Many blame the chaos on the police, saying that throwing spikes or giving chase to a kombi or pirate taxi on the busy roads and streets of Bulawayo was reckless and unwarranted, as it puts passengers’ lives at risk.

The use of spikes to deter commuter omnibus drivers from running away from roadblocks and to discourage them from picking up passengers at undesignated places was widely opposed by residents, motorists and owners of the commuter omnibuses.

Bulawayo Public Transport Association secretary general Albert Ncube said the recent spikes accident was unfortunate. He denounced the use of spikes to deter traffic offenders saying it was inhumane. He said instead police officers should arrest the traffic offenders by taking down the number plates of the vehicle. He said it is a noble idea to arrest and impound empty commuter omnibuses at their pick-up points or when they are parked after hours rather than to put the lives of innocent passengers at risk by using spikes.

“Police officers should not throw spikes to a moving commuter omnibus carrying people. This is so inhumane. It is wise for the police officers to stop chasing commuter omnibus drivers or throwing spikes, instead they should take down the number plates of a vehicle fleeing from a police checkpoint,” said Ncube.

He said stiffer penalties to deter errand public transporters should be put in place other than using dangerous tactics every time.

“This chaos should be addressed and raised in parliament to find some lasting solutions. I believe fines charged to the errant drivers are not deterrent to end this menace. If we continue to find the same traffic offenders and unroadworthy vehicles on the roads everyday, it means traffic laws and charges are lenient. Traffic offenders should be jailed or pay deterrent fines to end this rot,” he said.

Accident victim . . . Nokuthula Mabhena is one of the passengers who were involved in an accident when the driver of a Toyota Hiace kombi they were travelling in tried to avoid spikes resulting in the vehicle overturning along the Khami Road flyover bridge recently
The ineffectiveness of traffic police amid accusations of corruption has seen them losing credibility in the eyes of the public, with some motorists feeling it justified to evade roadblocks. Kombi crews say traffic police harass them and extort money at the checkpoints.

A lawyer, Elvis Zvimba, said there is no law which allows the police officers to throw spikes on a moving commuter omnibus carrying passengers. He said what should be addressed is the issue of corruption in the police’s rank and file, which is promoting the cat and mouse game.

Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) Managing Director, Obio Chinyere, said commuter omnibus crews should desist from speeding away from traffic police checkpoints. He said commuter omnibus drivers should respect traffic rules and avoid endangering the lives of innocent passengers.

“Traffic rules should be adhered to. Running away from police roadblocks is risking people’s lives. Police roadblocks are there to restore sanity on the country’s roads. We urge all motorists to adhere to the traffic laws. Many of the commuter omnibus drivers try to avoid police roadblocks because they don’t have the required documents to operate as public transporters. Some are unlicensed and under-age drivers operating as public transporters without defensive driving certificates and some commuter omnibuses do not have fitness certificates, thereby risking the lives of passengers,” he said.

Chinyere said the presence of traffic police officers on the country’s roads is to get rid of the errant drivers who are placing the lives of the people in danger.

A public transport operator, Godfrey Masuku, said what the police officers are doing is unfair and it will push them out of business. He said failure to pay a bribe at every police checkpoint means the vehicle is impounded until such a time the crews pay.

“After having my vehicle tyres deflated, we are required to pay a fine to the police or else pay a bribe of about $60 to avoid my car being impounded. I need also to go and repair or buy new tyres which cost about $100 each and at the end of the day I am being pushed out of business,” fumed Masuku.

He said the officers are good at fault-finding. Even if the vehicle is still new they will never fail to find a fault as a way of forcing them to pay bribes.

“There are too many police roadblocks in the city and we can spend the whole day on roadblocks and paying spot fines and bribes at every checkpoint and this will force us to flee from such corrupt activities. As public transporters we need to adhere to the traffic rules, but it is not being done in a transparent manner. It seems the fines are there to rob us out of business and lining individual pockets,” said Masuku.

Bulawayo United Residents Association chairman, Winos Dube urged police officers to find a better way of dealing with traffic offenders instead of using spikes.

“Police officers are expected to protect citizens and not endanger their lives by using spikes to deter errant drivers. I believe commuter omnibuses have number plates and it is wise for them to take down the number plates and follow the owners of those vehicles and arrest them without risking passengers. At the same time public transporters should stop at all police checkpoints according to the traffic rules,” said Dube.

Some argued that some errant commuter omnibus drivers were hiding their number plates or put fake ones to avoid being tracked down by police officers, but said this did not justify the use of methods that end up costing lives.

A motorist, Fred Jairos, said the main cause of the cat and mouse chase game between traffic police and public transporters is an

“organised system”used by the law enforcement agents to get rid of kombis owned by civilians from the roads, leaving their own kombis to operate freely.

“If you visit Sixth Avenue, you find that most of the commuter omnibuses picking up people at the undesignated place are owned by police officers. Unbeknown to the public and some commuter operators, commuter omnibuses owned by some law enforcement agents will never be chased away from the undesignated pick-up zones, except those owned by civilians,” said Jairos.
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