There was a week-long road safety campaign in Rwanda aimed at further reminding road users that roads are essentially built to make it easy for us to move from one place to another and not from this life to another. Road accidents claim so many lives and indeed traffic police departments in this part of the world are arguably the busiest in most police organisations.
During the week, Rwanda National Police held campaigns across the country putting a lot of emphasis on the dangers of drunk driving and driving while using mobile phones as these two make up the bulk of traffic offenses. Speeding remains a big threat as well especially when drivers try to overtake at dangerous corners. On this, passengers were urged to always prevail upon the drivers and report them where possible.
Other activities that were carried out during the week included the repainting of several zebra crossings and this time the colour stripes were changed from the usual white to red and white in a bid to increase visibility. This got so many people talking and wondering about the colour change. Some even asked whether they can still be called zebra crossings now that the colour is different. I am really happy that a deliberate effort has been made to make these pedestrians bridges more visible and I hope more drivers will now learn to accord them the respect they deserve.
You see one of the reasons why our roads continue to be dangerous can be attributed to the very perception we have about roads. We generally tend to have this perception that roads are exclusively for cars and anything or anyone else is indeed an unwanted nuisance. Obviously the main bearers of this false perception are car owners. If you listen to some of them you can be shocked at how much contempt they have for other road users.
Interestingly this contempt is both categorical and hierarchical. Drivers of passenger service vehicles tend to despise the private car owners who they view as timid and hesitant on the road and thus bad drivers. On the other hand, the private car owners think the passenger service vehicle drivers are reckless and high on some illegal stuff. Both categories have mutual contempt for motorcyclists, cyclists and of course pedestrians.
To many car drivers, pedestrians are expected to see (apparently because the car is bigger) and fear cars, then act accordingly. This kind of thinking is wrongly brought even to those areas with pedestrian crossings. Some approach them at high speed and even have the guts to hoot at anyone already on the zebra crossing, urging them to move out of the way! Other drivers do not bother to even slowdown when going through crowded towns again because; it is the people who are supposed to see the mighty car and stay very far from the road.
Drivers need to replace this contempt with respect. You lose nothing by respecting other drivers on the road as well as other road users using cheaper means than you. The fact that you are driving in a German made machine for example does not mean that those on motorcycles do not matter. At the end of the day you are all tax payers, but more importantly, human beings.
It is very good to note that unlike most cities in the region, Kigali has made a really commendable effort to design roads that cater for the dignity of all road users. Pavements for pedestrians are now a common thing on roads in this city and they are also very well done that you often find people walking while texting. This is actually a dangerous habit but it is safe to say that one does not often have to worry about falling in an open manhole as much as would be the case elsewhere.
Walking being the commonest form of transport in most of our cities means that planners have a duty to seriously consider the comfort and safety of pedestrians. This is why it is good to see the police ensuring that pedestrian crossings are not only more visible but that those who are not willing to stop and let pedestrians cross are penalised for their inconsiderate and dangerous driving habits. Whenever we are designing or even repairing roads, pedestrians should not be an afterthought. Cities should be built to function for people regardless of the mode of transport or social class.
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