A DARK cloud descended once again, casting a very sombre shadow over the nation. News of a tragic road accident on October 14, this year, broke just as the nation prepared to commemorate the National Road Safety Week.
A joyous wedding day had sad ending , after seven people died on the spot, with seven others cheating death. According to eye witnesses, a truck rammed into the vehicle in which they were travelling at Getasam Village, after a wedding ceremony in Hanang, in Babati District.
Safety stakeholders, who gathered at the Mashujaa ground for the Road Safety Week, were struck by a huge sense of sadness when they learnt about the news.
Led by Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the crowd observed a minute of silence in respect of the deceased. The septet’s dreams were cut short in a brutally way possible. Rubbing salt into the fresh wound, another tragedy struck a day before the road safety week’s curtain descended.
This time, five people perished in a tragic road crash in Kagera region, sending the nation into agony once again. Two fatal incidents claimed twelve innocent lives within a week in October.
They’re the latest batches of bad news in traffic fatality. The tragedies, ironically, struck at the time when the nation was commemorating the National Road Safety Week.
Despite a number of campaigns aimed at increasing road safety, more Tanzanians are dying on roads and highways almost every day. The Traffic Police Department says that from January to September this year, a total of 1906 people have died on roads.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks Tanzania among the worst performing countries on road safety. According to the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015 by the WHO traffic related fatalities is around 32.9 per cent per the 100,000 population.
This occasions a significant economic loss of 3.4 per cent of the country’s GDP, says the report-- almost total contribution of the mineral sector to the Gross Domestic Product. Gracing the opening of this year’s Road Safety Week, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan bemoaned mortality, morbidity and economic loss caused by road traffic accidents.
Cognizant of the main causes of road crashes, of which 76 per cent owe to human error, the Vice President underscored the need for a more stringent Road Traffic legislation. Apparently echoing the outcry of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Road Safety, she said the laws should focus on five risk factors which are responsible for more deaths and serious injuries.
She mentioned the road users’ behavior that often lead to serious road traffic crashes as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and nonuse of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints.
Ms Samia’s call just echoed the outcry by the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Road Safety. For the past few years the coalition has been advocating for road safety legal and policy reforms, by addressing gaps in the current Road Traffic Act that link directly to current high rate of road fatalities in the country.
As part of its contribution towards legal reforms, the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) recently launched a position paper titled ‘The Road Traffic Act -Gaps for Amendments with Recommendations and Justifications for Improvements.
The paper details on existing gaps in relation to five key risk factors, speed, drink-driving, seat belts, helmets and child restraints. According to TAWLA, the Road Traffic Act, 1973, covers only a few areas for purposes of controlling speed, that is, the legislation specifies only a few classes of vehicles and in some geographical places.
They recommend that the law should cover all types of vehicles not only commercial, public service and heavy - duty vehicles for effective control of speed. “The law needs to stipulate clearly the speed limits for areas like National parks.
The RTA must be reviewed to ensure the local government takes up the role of regulating speed especially with regard to regional and districts roads,” adds TAWLA Programme Manager, Ms Mary Richards. Another recommendation by TAWLA is that the RTA should be amended to include a generic absolute limit on speed regardless of road type or vehicle category as that will ensure safety for all users and align the law with internationally accepted standards.
Another gap, according to TAWLA, is on the blood alcohol content limit provided by RTA, which exceeds the international and best practice standards. Road safety advocates say “the law needs to lower the limit from 0.08g/dl to 0.05g/dl for at least an expert driver and distinguish between the experienced and non - experienced driver for whom the blood level should not go beyond 0.02g/dl.”
There is also a shared concern among road safety stakeholders that the fines imposed under the law are too lenient thus cannot be a deterrent to a driver on the wheel driving under influence.
According to the paper, it is estimated that 22 per cent of deaths of drivers can be accounted to the two and three wheeler vehicles in Tanzania, with the most serious and fatal injuries involving motorcycle riders said to be those inflicted to the head and neck.
“As a way of avoiding head injuries and deaths resulting from motorcycle crashes, the wearing of helmets is important,” TAWLA suggests. The women lawyers association argues that the existing Road Traffic Act provides mandatory helmet wearing to drivers but it is not mandatory for passengers.
The association, therefore, calls for an amendment to compel to wear helmets too and clearly stipulate about the required standard of helmets as would be specified by Tanzania Bureau of Standards.
According to Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation and WHO, who reviewed the current legislation, the law also does not meet the international threshold for laws on the wearing of seat belts.
“It is important that there will be provisions requiring all occupants of a motor vehicle occupying sitting position to wear a seat belt,” says Mr John. On the other hand, exposes another gap in the Traffic laws, saying there is no provision on child restraints.
“A child restraint does to the minor what the seat belt does to a grown up passenger. Evidence shows that when children are seated in restraint that is in conformity to their weight and size of the body the risk of injuries is reduced by almost 70 per cent,” reveals Mr John.
He says international standards require that children of up to 7 years of age should be using restraints to avoid injuries and deaths in case of crashing and argues that the law must make use of child restraint mandatory and impose deterrent penalty for non-compliance.