Authorities in Malawi have faced resistance from bus operators as they try to implement enhanced traffic safety measures amid a rise in fatal accidents this year.
Two police stations were torched on June 23 in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre, as minibus drivers and conductors protested the new traffic safety measures. Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrations.
Officials say the new measures are a response to a rise in deadly road accidents, many of them involving buses. The most recent one killed ten people in June when a bus they were travelling in flipped three times in Ntcheu district of central Malawi.
Police spokesperson James Kadadzera told VOA there have been 927 road deaths this year in Malawi, compared to 806 during the same period last year.
“We are talking of over speeding as being the main cause," he said. "Drink and drive is following as another factor and we have inconsiderate overtaking, dangerous overtaking.”
The government is now requiring passenger buses to install a speed limiter. Under the new by-laws, drivers and conductors of buses that are overcrowded, operating after 10 p.m., or carrying standing passengers can also face fines and as much as 10 years in jail.
The changes went into effect in mid-June. Meanwhile, minibus operators have increased fares, a move aimed to maintain what they were making when they were overloading their buses.
“We now sometimes quarrel with passengers trying to board with bags because we fear of being jailed. So we are losing customers, as many of them take us to be rude," says Gold Mabukhu, a minibus driver in Blantyre.
The state-owned Malawi News Agency reported Monday the Lilongwe Senior Magistrate Court fined five drivers $140 each for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Police spokesman Kadadzera says police need more speed guns and breathalyzer machines to curb reckless driving.
“In fact, we have these gadgets, but may not be everywhere," he said. "We have them in insufficient number and they cannot be always there.”
He says police have increased traffic patrols to check vehicles and drivers.
Bus operators say the government needs to do its part as well and improve the country’s roads to ensure safe driving.
“They are not wide enough," says Benson Chibaka is an operations manager for AXA Bus Company in Malawi. "They are getting smaller and smaller when they are being eaten up by the rains. So the roads need to be worked on as well.”
Malawi President Peter Mutharika has set up a joint committee with the ministries of labor and transport to explore further ways to stop the road carnage.