It’s always good to learn how the locals do things when you visit somewhere new. You may be coming from beyond the borders of Zimbabwe or just visiting Harare. This guide aims to help you navigate our lovely potholed streets and the bad driving you’re likely to encounter. This also serves as a follow-up to the types of drivers you will find in your lane.
Your lane is not your lane.
Now, let’s be clear avoiding potholes is a must; and should be done safely when approaching a bad patch of road. Be prepared to encounter oncoming vehicles in your lane because staying in your lane is not always an option. There’s nothing wrong with turning on your hazards and waiting until its safe to drive around or slowly through the bad patch.
However, this is not what I mean when I say your lane is not your lane. Bad driving Hararians do not generally have patience when faced with slow-moving traffic. So what happens when you present them with an ’empty’ oncoming lane? Well, that’s just under-utilised tarmac as far as they are concerned. The irony is that this perpetuates the problem when inevitably trying to return to the correct lane.
This bad driving can happen anywhere and at any time but is especially common during peak rush hours.
Everywhere is a bus stop
In an ideal situation, there are designated areas for buses to stop and drop off or pick up passengers. But here, any patch of road or kerb will do. So be prepared to stop or swerve at any given point.
The situation becomes more interesting on a dual-carriageway as the bus won’t necessarily be in the outside lane. They will either come across from the inner lane or worse overtake you to make their stop. Bringing us neatly to our next point…
Not all buses look like buses
I’m sure my description of a bus overtaking and slamming on its brakes to stop just in front of you must have sounded like something from Final Destination(if you know, you know), but it’s not quite that insane.
Motorists in Zimbabwe will be acutely aware of the existence of mshika-shikas. To the uninitiated, these are pirate taxies; usually a Honda Odessy or Toyota Wish. But the more frugal drivers will pick a fuel saver (such as those on this list) to maximise profits. Regardless of the official seating capacity of these vehicles, you will probably find twice as many occupants at any given time.
So along with 80-seater buses, 16 seater commuter omnibuses, be weary of 10-seater MPVs and hatchbacks, usually with sagging rear suspension.
A turning lane isn’t just a turning lane
It would be easy to lay the blame for this one on the buses and bus-not-buses; rushing to pick up the next fare across the intersection. But depending on how busy/important the driver in the turning lane is feeling, they aren’t actually turning. Now there are two scenarios that you as a driver in the straight-ahead lane should be aware of:
1. When you arrive at the intersection at the same time
The driver in the turning line will begin to creep forward before the light is green to get a jump on you. If it’s a mshika-shika he will need the headstart as his vehicle is likely overloaded with passengers. If it’s a normal car, an unintentional drag race will likely ensue. The best course of action is to advance slowly and let them get ahead. Because, a) the green light isn’t always safe (see below: Green Light, Red Light, No Light). And b) everywhere is a bus stop and you will pass them soon enough.
2. ~When there is no one in the turning lane
You’ve arrived at the intersection and stopped but no one is in the turning lane next to you. Should be safe to drive off normally right? Not always. Make sure you check your side mirror because that turning lane can become a sneaky overtake lane. Playing chicken across the intersection won’t end well.
While we’re at it if you’re in the straight-ahead lane and the turning lane is full of cars. Be prepared for the car ahead of you to turn. Sometimes they will indicate beforehand, more often than not they will simply start turning and block your path.
Green light, Red light, No light
Approach all intersections with caution. Odds are there’s 50/50 chance that the traffic lights will be fully functional. When the light turns green, take a beat because there is no guarantee that the other traffic lights are working correctly.
Even when they work correctly, there may be that driver who believes that they will somehow cross the intersection in the milliseconds between their side turning red and yours turning green. Worse still if the traffic lights aren’t working at all; some drivers assume they have right of way and enter the intersection at speed. It doesn’t take a prophet to see what will happen when two of these mindsets meet in the middle of the intersection.
The Formula Ma1 Drivers
The paid professionals contesting the Driver’s Championship may feel slighted by this comparison but I assume the bad drivers fancy themselves qualified comrades. Not interested in Donnybrook, they find pleasure in zipping in and out of traffic. And much like the legal drag racing at Donnybrook, this form of bad driving isn’t limited to owners of high-powered machinery.
“Ah but Tate,” I hear you say, “many of the speed limit signs have rotted and fallen away!”
This is true. But even Verstappen and Hamilton know that the pitlane has a speed limit, as do the safety car periods. When I was studying for my provisional licence 20 odd years ago, I was taught about the general speed limits around town. Ergo all licenced drivers should know the speed limits. However, to be safe, watch your mirrors for these speedsters as they rush to the next intersection. Where you will likely find them waiting for you anyway, a mere car or two ahead. This is especially amusing if you arrive there having obeyed the speed limit.
On a serious note
Bad driving has been approached with a humorous tone, but disregard for the road rules can cause all kinds of damage and more importantly loss of life. The need for improved infrastructure cannot be denied but as motorists or passengers, we should try by all means to reduce the amount of bad driving on our roads. Patience and courtesy for others can reduce the amount of frustration and gridlock we face. The flip side of that coin, however, requires law enforcement to be proactive in upholding the laws which were written to make the streets safer for all. We must all be accountable.