Petrol and diesel are available in most of the towns, and shortages are now rare, although unleaded petrol is not readily available outside Lusaka. However, for travel into the bush you will need long-range fuel tanks, and/or a large stock of filled jerrycans. It is essential to plan your fuel requirements well in advance, and to carry more than you expect to need.
Remember that using the vehicle's 4WD capability, especially in low-ratio gears, will significantly increase your fuel consumption. Similarly, the cool comfort of a vehicle's air conditioning will burn your fuel reserves swiftly. In summer 2004 the price in Lusaka for diesel was Kw4,500 per litre, and petrol Kw5,500 per litre; unleaded, when you can find it, is slightly more expensive. The further you go away from the major centres, the more these prices will increase.
Zambia's garages do not generally have a comprehensive stock of vehicle spares – though bush mechanics can effect the most amazing short-term repairs, with remarkably basic tools and raw materials. Spares for the more common makes are easiest to find, so most basic Land Rover and Toyota 4WD parts are available somewhere in Lusaka, at a price. If you are arriving in Zambia with a foreign vehicle, it is best to bring as many spares as you can.
You should seriously consider taking a GPS system if you are heading off the main roads in the more remote areas of the country.
Police road blocks
Often in Zambia you'll come across a police road block. You'll find them on all the main roads around the larger towns, and randomly placed on other tar roads and arteries also. It's vital that you stop for them, and it'll speed your journey if you know how to deal with them. I usually slow down on my approach, turn off any music or air-conditioning, take off any sunglasses and roll down my window. Then greet the officer with a broad smile and a traditional greeting, or at least a polite 'Good morning, how are you?'
Foreigners will often be waved through. Sometimes you'll be asked a few questions – typically about where you are going and what you are doing. Keep your answers simple, honest and clear. You may be asked to test your lights, or indicators, or to show your insurance or identification. Answer politely with good humour and keep cool. Like any country, Zambia has occasional radar traps, and there are rules of the road; if you contravene these, then you may be fined. If so, then it's best to fill out the official forms, and pay the official fine as swiftly as possible.
However, once in a while you'll come across a roadblock where they're aiming to find fault – to 'fine' you and keep the money. For this, read the box Road blocks: spurious charges opposite.
Road blocks: spurious charges
The vast majority of road blocks are fair and friendly, but occasionally you may find one where the officers are really looking to levy a fine. This is rare, but it happens! Then the officers will either find a problem, or make one up, to try to get you to pay an on-the-spot fine – and they won't be using official forms.
Some of their favourite excuses may be the finer points of the law of the road; others they'll just make up. These might include claiming that: you haven't got two 6-inch white strips of reflective tape on your front bumper, or two in red on the back bumper; you should have two steel triangles (a favourite is to fine people with plastic ones!) and make sure they are easy to get at; or your reversing lights don't work.
Whatever the charge, however unreasonable, it's vital that you keep your cool, take your time, and don't appear at all bothered. Act as if you've all the time in the world, keep smiling and stay helpful and cheerful. Never get angry; always keep it amiable. However, do politely insist on a few of Zambia's basic road laws:
• You should always, very pleasantly and politely, record the officer's name and number – I'd be casual about this – but make it clear that you have done it.
• Note that higher police officers and authorities try hard to stamp out this sort of corrupt behaviour. For this reason you should always find a way to report dodgy behaviour to a higher officer at the local station, though obviously don't imply that the officer(s) in question are doing anything wrong.
• You never need to give your car keys or licence to a police officer; they have the right to see your licence – but not to take it off you.
• If you are charged with anything, then you have the right to insist that the officer accompanies you to the local police station, to discuss the charge with his superior. So, basically, you say politely that you're happy to pay the fine… but you wish to do so at the local police station.
• Never threaten to 'report' an officer – but instead you might innocently insist that you need a receipt with a stamp – and you'll have to take it to the station for one, even after they let you go.
• Finally, I'd never admit to being late, or having to be anywhere too quickly; it's tantamount to admitting that you'll be willing to pay a bribe to get away faster.
• If you willingly pay bribes then your corruptness is perpetuating the practice. Don't do it.
Stick to these rules, take your time, remain patient and they'll eventually let you go – or at least the price of the 'fine' will reduce to being insignificant!
If you drive carefully in Zambia, during the day, and stick to the speed limits and sensible speeds (maximum 100–120km/h on good tar, much less on gravel or pot-holed tar), then you should never have an accident here. However, animals and people on the road can be nightmare (especially cyclists) so don't be shy about using your horn a lot, and well in advance, especially in busy towns.
If you're unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, you need to think clearly. If you've just hit a dog, a goat or a chicken, then don't worry. You do not have to stop. It would be courteous to compensate the owner – although you may end up in a heated situation which becomes very difficult. If you hit a wild animal, you should report it to the local ZAWA office, or police station.
If you hit a person, then the accident must be reported. Your natural instinct will be to stop – but most Zambians will tell you that you should not to do so, for fear of being seriously assaulted by friends or relatives of the injured person. That said, if the person is injured then you may be able to help to get him or her to hospital. I've never had to make this choice, and hope I never have to.
In any case, you must go directly to the nearest police station, or police roadblock. If a death has occurred then you will be expected to hand over your passport to the police.