Traffic and Road Conditions in Zambia

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

While in Zambia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In Zambia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road and vehicles in traffic circles travel clockwise. It is illegal to turn left on a red light. Driving on Zambian roads can be hazardous. Most roads do not have shoulders or sidewalks, forcing pedestrians and livestock to use the roadways both day and night. It is a traffic violation to splash a pedestrian when driving through water. While the main roads in Lusaka and the principal highways linking Lusaka with the major provincial capitals are generally maintained, many secondary roads are in poor repair. During the rainy season (end of October to mid-March), travelers who do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle will encounter problems driving on rural roads. Even in daylight, passing another vehicle can be particularly dangerous given the general condition of roads.

Driving on Zambian roads can be hazardous. Most roads do not have shoulders or sidewalks, forcing pedestrians and livestock to use the roadways both day and night. It is a traffic violation to splash a pedestrian when driving through water. While the main roads in Lusaka and the principal highways linking Lusaka with the major provincial capitals are generally maintained, many secondary roads are in poor repair. During the rainy season (end of October to mid-March), travelers who do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle will encounter problems driving on rural roads. Even in daylight, passing another vehicle can be particularly dangerous given the general condition of roads.

Driving at night can be hazardous and is discouraged. Even in Lusaka there are few streetlights, and pedestrians on the edge of the road are difficult to see. When breakdowns occur, local drivers place a few branches behind the car to indicate trouble but these are difficult to see after dark. As a result, many drivers use their high beams at night to detect stopped vehicles and pedestrians but often fail to dim their high beams when approaching other cars. Cars with a non-functioning headlight are another hazard.

U.S. citizens have been involved in a number of serious car accidents. There are no emergency services for injured or stranded drivers. Car accident victims are vulnerable to theft by those who pretend to be helpful. It is advisable to have a cell phone when undertaking a trip outside of town, although some parts of the country do not yet have cell phone service.

City traffic is comprised mostly of cars and minibuses; motorcycles are rare. Some luxury buses travel between Lusaka and Livingstone and the Copperbelt. Minibuses serve as the primary means of inter-city travel in Zambia but are often overcrowded, poorly maintained, and seldom punctual. Drivers often pass using road shoulders or opposing traffic lanes and frequently stop with little or no warning to pick up or drop off passengers. If you hear sirens indicating an official motorcade while you are driving, you should come to a stop and, if possible, pull to the side of the road.

Seat belts are mandatory, as are helmets for motorcyclists. A child's seat is not mandatory by law but is essential for safeguarding children. Using a cell phone while operating a vehicle is illegal and carries a minimum fine equivalent to $60. The speed limit is 50 km/30 mph in Lusaka and 100 km/60 mph outside of city limits; however, speed limits are rarely respected, and most cars drive 80 km/50 mph in the city and 120 km/75 mph outside of town. Many vehicles operate at even faster speeds on the road from Lusaka to Livingstone.

If you are stopped by police while driving and asked to pay a fine, you should be provided an official receipt or directed to the nearest police station where you can make payment. Drivers under the influence of alcohol who are involved in accidents are tested at Lusaka's University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and then taken to court.

To take a vehicle into Zambia, you must obtain a temporary import permit (TIP) at the border, or, depending on the country of origin, a carnet de passage. If you are not the owner of the vehicle, you must have a letter from the owner authorizing the use of the vehicle in Zambia. You must also purchase third-party insurance at the border. Residents of Zambia should obtain a driver’s license after obtaining a residence or study permit. Cars must have small reflective stickers attached to the bumper (white on front, red on back), and drivers should always carry two reflective triangles (used to warn other drivers if your car breaks down). Traffic officer checkpoints are fairly frequent outside of urban centers and you risk a fine if found to be driving without reflective stickers, triangles, a spare tire, or non-working headlights or indicator lights.

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