THOUGH Tanzanian roads are ranked among the deadliest in the world, with the latest WHO Global Road Safety Status Report testifying to that fact, the country is apparently making steady progress in the reduction of road fatalities.
The WHO report, released last December, based its findings from the 2016 survey of which official police statistics showed that there were 3,256 deaths.
It also highlights that the average rate of dying on Tanzanian roads was 29.2 deaths per 100,000 people, with the average rate in low-income countries standing at 27.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
The risk was thus over three times higher than in high income countries, whose average rate was 8.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Not all gloomy
But, though the report spells doom over the country’s roads, there has been noteworthy progress in the reduction of road crashes, resultant injuries and deaths.
The Head of Legal Department at the Traffic Police Headquarters, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Deus Sokoni, while speaking at a meeting with parliamentary committees recently, stated that Tanzania road safety profile had improved as the country continues to record reduction in the number of road crashes and fatalities.
ASP Sokoni said that statistics indicated that road accident deaths and injuries from January to December last year had reduced by 31 and 32 percent respectively compared to the year 2017.
“Road safety in the country keeps improving as accidents, deaths and injuries have decreased,” he said. He added that the rate of accidents involving motorcycles and government vehicles had decreased, while fatal accidents that used to occur during end of the year and at the start of a new year had been controlled as well.
Annual Police reports on traffic indicate that there has been a gradual reduction trend in the number of injuries and deaths from 2013 to 2018.
Based on the figures above, one may rightly argue that Tanzania is on the right track of attaining the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety to reduce road traffic accident deaths by 50 per cent by the year 2020.
But, more need to be done to attain the target and importantly sustain the reduction of road fatalities.
Interventions bear fruit
Commenting on the progress, ASP Sokoni said interventions by both government agencies and non-state actors have helped to outdo the trends.
Police have also intensified operations to minimise cases of road accidents which tend to shoot up during the end and beginning of the year, noted ASP Sokoni.
Furthermore, more police officers are now being deployed on the roads to enforce traffic rules, with errant drivers arrested, prosecuted or penalised. The introduction of speed cameras on the highways and tough actions against traffic offenders has aided in cutting down reckless accidents.
There is more compliance to traffic laws among long distance passenger vehicle drivers, especially speed management, one of the leading causes of road crashes on Tanzanian roads.
“Operations such as NYAKUA –NYAKUA has helped in controlling road crashes, it has received massive backing and many suggest that it should be sustained,” he noted.
Thanks to increased police operations, over 2,694,237 road traffic offenses were recorded in 2018, an increase from 2,497,393 recorded the previous year.
According to ASP Sokoni, road safety education and publicity has also played a critical role in sensitising the masses on road traffic rules and regulation, which has culminated in increased levels of adherence to safety regulations on the roads by all road users.
But, he warned that there are still quite a few drivers who have not yet changed their behavior, insisting that they will be dealt with accordingly.
Traffic Police Commander Fortunatus Musilimu said that a range of interventions including road safety campaigns, police patrols and operations such as alcohol tests, use of speed radars, vehicle tracking system (VTS), vehicle inspections have proved effective in checking accidents on the country’s roads.
Crashes remain a concern
Despite the positive trends, the road safety situation in Tanzania remains a big concern among road safety stakeholders, who want to see an end to high rate of carnages on the country’s roads.
The Violence and Injury Prevention- Road Safety Health Systems Cluster, WHO office in Tanzania, Ms Mary Kessy, says no one deserves to die or be seriously injured on roads.
“Every single life needs to be protected; that is why we should do whatever we can to prevent crashes and keep everyone safe on our roads,” she said, noting that road accidents are both a health and development problem.
Regrettably, says Ms Mary, behind each statistic is a human tragedy that may have affected many people, adding: “In most cases a death, or deaths, could have been easily avoided.”
She recalls huge social economic losses from road accidents, which approximately cost Tanzania almost 3 trillion/-about 2.8 of the total GDP every year and argues that more efforts are needed to address the road safety problem.
Former Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) President John Seka, revealed that there is need for a collaborative effort by everyone in the country to improve road safety. He says road safety should be a national agenda.
“We must stop the unnecessary consequential loss of lives and properties,” says Seka.
He argued that Tanzania has pledged to reduce accidents by 50 per cent as part of its commitment in the Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2010 – 2020, and if necessary steps are taken, the target is achievable.
In order to achieve the intended target and meet its commitments, Seka says it was proposed as one of the quick wins, to amend the Road Traffic Act of 1973 with a view to addressing the shortcomings in the laws that lead to increase of accidents.
Over the past few years, the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Road Safety has been orchestrating legal and policy reforms in the country, by addressing gaps in the existing Road Traffic legislation that link directly to current high rate of road carnages.
As part of its contribution towards legal reforms, the coalition issued a Position Paper titled ‘The Road Traffic Act–Gaps for Amendments with Recommendations and Justifications for Improvements.
Key risk factors
The paper details existing gaps in relation to five key risk factors of speeding, helmet use, seat belt use, drink driving and use of child restraints, with mobile phone use while driving also added.
Speed is said to be the leading cause of road crashes but the current RTA covers only a few areas for purpose of controlling speed. Thus, the legislation specifies only a few classes of vehicles and in some geographical places.
In Tanzania, there are three general speed limits stipulated by law: according to Section 51 of the Road Traffic Act of 1973, the speed limit for vehicles with more than 3.5 tonnes is 80 km/h.
For trucks and buses, the general speed limit on all roads, except on urban roads, is 80 km/h. In built-up areas, the speed limit is according to the Act 50 km/h for all vehicles but may occasionally locally be set at 60 km/h.
The recommendation by road safety advocates is that the law should cover all types of vehicles not only commercial, public service and heavy-duty vehicles for effective control of speed.
Drinking-driving is another thorn in the flesh for road safety stakeholders in the country.
The blood alcohol content limit provided by RTA is a cause for concern among road safety stakeholders as it exceeds the international and best practice standards.
It is therefore proposed that the law should 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.’
Helmet use It is estimated that 22 percent of deaths of drivers can be accounted to two and three wheeler vehicles in the country, 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 cannot be overemphasized. But the RTA provides mandatory helmet wearing to drivers only.
The law, thus, needs to be amended to compel motorcycle passengers to wear helmets and clearly stipulate the required standard of helmets. Seatbelt wearing.
The RTA on the other hand does not meet the international threshold for laws on fastening of seatbelts, with only drivers and front seat passengers compelled to belt up.
It is important that the law requires all occupants of a motor vehicle occupying sitting position to wear a seat belt correctly as well as impose mandatory wearing of child restraints, says Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation. Advocate Mackphason Buberwa, TLS’s Programme Officer- Government and Parliament Engagement (Law Reforms), says adopting and enforcing good laws is effective in changing road user behaviour on key risk factors for road traffic injuries – speed, drink–driving, and the failure to use helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.
But, there is a shared concern among road safety stakeholders over the protracted process to amend the apparently outdated Road Traffic Act, 1973.
Though said to be in advanced stage, the bill for RTA amendment is yet to be finalized with its advocates still in dark as to when the bill will be tabled in the parliament.