Road crashes: Escaping death by whisker through magic belt (Part 1)

A STITCH in time serves nine, is an adage that rightly applies to none other than Abubakar Kombo, who escaped death by a whisker after being involved in a horrific accident, a couple of years ago.

The accident has left an indelible mark in Kombo’s life to an extent that memories of the horrific crash linger on and are still fresh in his mind, today.

“It was on the 18th, August, 2013,” he recalls, “I and my co-driver, Robert, were really lucky to escape with minor injuries from the scary crash,” said Kombo.

They were returning to Dar es Salaam from a duty trip in Arusha, driving a Nissan Hardbody vehicle. According to him, it was around 1900hrs on the fateful day and he was cruising at 110km/h, quite fast. A few kilometres from Kabuku town, tragedy struck.

A speeding Toyota Hiace coming from the opposite direction unexpectedly and recklessly attempted to overtake a haulage truck and encroached into Kombo’s lane.

“When the driver noticed that there was an oncoming vehicle, he tried to avoid a head-on collision and in the process, the Hiace swerved and hit my car on the side.

One of my vehicle’s tires burst and I lost control of the vehicle, resulting in it bouncing on the edge of the road and veering off the highway.

“I thought it was the end of the story for both of us, I began praying that we don’t end up down the valley or crash on a big tree,” he said.

The runaway vehicle overturned two times and landed on its right side, after almost 50 metres, he remembers.

“For a couple of seconds, I think I was unconscious, I couldn’t figure out what was happening and when I regained consciousness, I realized we had been involved in an accident!”

He discovered that he was upside down, hanging from the seatbelt. “I unhooked myself and crawled out of the car through the window which had been shattered.

Then I helped my fellow driver to remove his seat belt.” “I thank God that though the vehicle was a complete right off, none of us was badly injured,” he says. And, the miracle proved to be the seat belts.

“We’re both wearing seat belts. If it wasn’t that then we could have certainly been thrown out of the windscreen. I only had a hand sprain and minor scar on the face because of the impact.

My colleague also suffered minor injuries.” Miguel Suleiman, a veteran journalist, gives another good reminder of the value of seat belts.

“Hadn’t it been for a seat-belt, the damage of the injury I sustained could have been grave,” he recalls, adding that the accident occurred on May 6, this year, at Chikuyu Village along the Dodoma-Mwanza highway an hour before dawn.

He was travelling in a private vehicle, a Toyota Passo driven by a friend. He says they had a smooth journey from Mbezi to Bahi, just 20 km from Chikuyu, when the crash occurred.

“It was close to dawn when our vehicle swerved, in an attempt to avoid a lorry that looked out of control.

The miniature vehicle rammed into a concrete block on the side I was sitting, badly damaging the left side of the car,” he narrates.

“The seat belt which was firmly fastened cross my chest saved my life or else I could have been thrown out of the car by the impact. I ended up fracturing my left tibia and fibula bones.

I was rushed to Manyoni hospital where I was operated on and admitted for ten weeks. Kombo and Miguel’s miraculous survival provide real-life examples of motorists and passengers who have lived to tell their tale thanks to seat belts.

The moment they fastened their belts, they ensured themselves of a 50 percent survival chance from life-endangering injuries. Many travellers and motorists do not live to tell their stories.

They die simply because they would not be wearing safety belts at the time of the crash, as Paul Simon recall the tragic passing on of his friend.

“My friend passed away in a heart-rending road accident. They were three in the car and the driver and the other passenger in the front seat survived as they were wearing seat belts, but he was in the rear seat and had not fastened the safety belt,” he says with regret.

Some people live to regret not taking a few seconds to buckle up after suffering life-changing injuries.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), wearing a seat belt can reduce fatalities among front-seat passengers by up to 50 percent and among rear-seat car passengers by up to 75 percent.

There are no surveys in Tanzania that examine the impact of non-use of seat belts, in terms of number of deaths and serious injuries, but studies in high-income countries have shown that failure to use a seat belt is a major risk factor for road traffic deaths and injuries among vehicle occupants.

“Not wearing a seat belt is one of the most contributing factors that cause more deaths in road crashes.

Passengers who were not wearing their seat-belts at the time of a collision have a great chance of suffering serious injuries or death,” concurs Dr Mary Kitambi, from the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.

Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation and WHO, says a seat belt is a safety harness designed to hold a car occupant in place in the case of an accident.

“It is intended to reduce injury or prevent death during a motor vehicle crash,” he says, “It is a proven fact that seat belt use saves lives.” Unfortunately, many over-confident and ill-informed passengers prefer not to wear these life-saving devices.

A survey conducted by this reporter in long-distance buses showed that a good number of passengers still do not comply with a regulation which requires all passengers to put on seat belts while travelling.

The survey showed that at least a quarter or one third would not bother to fasten their belts despite the fact that the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority law requires all vehicle occupants to put on seat belts.

For instance, at least 11 passengers out of 34 who were travelling in one of the luxury buses from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma did not buckle up, despite being reminded to do so by the bus crew at the start of the journey.

Inside another bus trading between Arusha and Dar es Salaam, at least half of the occupants including, three bus crews, who sat or stood near the door, were not wearing seat belts.

The survey also established that there is a habitual non-use of seat belts among passengers and bus crews. Upon arriving in Morogoro, the bus travelling to Dodoma from Dar es Salaam was stopped by a police officer, who took a minute to remind those inside the bus why it was important to buckle up.

However, there was poor response from those who were not wearing the safety belts. There is also poor knowledge on the proper way of fastening the belts. Some passengers buckled up but the seat belts remained too loose.

“I don’t feel comfortable when the seatbelt is a bit tight on my tommy, so I prefer it to be loose” responded Asha Said, when asked why she did not fasten correctly.

The habitual seat belts non-use situation is more evident in short distance routes. For instance, a survey in mini-buses travelling between Dar-Bagamoyo-Msata, the wearing rate is almost zero despite the fact that some points, the drivers drive above the speed limits.

On the other hand, there is still poor implementation of the law that requires passenger vehicle crews to inform their passengers to put on seat belts.

The Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority(SUMATRA) law requires that all passenger vehicles be fitted with seat belts in each seat and passengers are compelled to put them on while travelling.

Section A (v) of the Transport Licencing (Public Service Vehicles) sets conditions of licence for public service vehicle, requiring the licencee to ensure that a vehicle is fitted with functioning and neat seat belts on each seat.

Section B (x) stipulates that the crew of an inter-city or inter-national public service vehicle shall ensure that passengers are informed about safety issues before departure and during the journey.

A survey in buses travelling between Dar es Salaam and Arusha showed that some bus conductors and drivers do not always inform their passengers about the importance of fastening seat belts at the start of their journeys.

Observation conducted at Arusha mini-stand showed that the bus crews were more concerned with the rush for early take off and getting more passengers at bus stops located between Arusha and Mwanga.

Only crews of a few, properly managed buses showed more compliance. “Bus crews must ask their passengers to buckle up.

They’re responsible for the safety of their passengers,” says SUMATRA Road Safety and Environment Manager, Mr Geoffrey Silanda.

Mr Silanda said education and enforcement programme are being implemented to get people to wear a seat belt and the level of compliance has improved, though still unsatisfactory due to loopholes in the Road Traffic Act.

“The road traffic legislation does not make it mandatory for bus passengers to wear seat belts, thus, one cannot be penalized if he or she doesn’t comply,” he says.

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