By Elias Mhegera and Asha Abinallah
It is now becoming a common phenomenon to hear of a fatal road accident in every month in Tanzania. Researches by an NGO, Amend.Org have proved that 3.4 percent of Tanzanians die in road accidents in a year, 75 percent of those stems from reckless driving.
According to statistics by the Traffic Wing of the Tanzania Police Force, there were 3,969 deaths in 2012, while in 4,002 were recorded in 2013 and 3,760 in 2014.
Concerning a number of accidents; a total number of 23,578 in 2012, to be followed by 23,842 in 2013, while there was a slight drop to 14,360 in 2014, at least showing the picture of the last three years.
This then make experts in the transportation sector to advice Tanzanians to take driving as a serious profession rather than a mere career for no-employed people. Amongst them is mechanical engineer Mr. Charles Kisunga, head of transport, safety and environmental studies at the National Institute of Transport (NIT).
“It is strange that people are not taking driving seriously, and since anyone can sit behind the wheel there is an exaggeration that they are drivers,” he lamented. He boasts that his institution the NIT has played its duty well, what remains is the government portion to monitor drivers, their practice and integrity as road users. He elucidated the main causes of road accidents as tiredness, drunkenness, poor driving schooling, outdated infrastructure, and at times it is passengers who pressurize drivers to travel at a high speed.
Some drivers over boast themselves that they are experienced enough so no one can control them or tell them which speed to pursue. While a good number of them does not have defensive driving techniques.
“With defensive driving a driver knows beforehand how to tackle a driving challenge whenever they are overwhelmed with tiredness and they cannot avoid an obstacle in the road,” he commented.
Another challenge is an importation of substandard vehicles. Some have very nice bodies outside but their mechanisms are outdated and already exhausted. It is because some transporters go for cheap things which offset the security elements.
Attempts to elongate the day by using drugs or any type of herbs could as well lead to devastative results, since drivers need to have micro-sleep, a short rest after every four hours.
“Driving needs a lot of discipline as whoever is doing so has the duty to protect lives of their passengers and those in their immediate surroundings during their travels.” He warns.
For his part, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Johansen Kahatano says there can be no single explanation on the sporadic increase of accidents but each one of them should be explained in its own merits.
He unknowingly supports an explanation by Kisunga from the NIT that the road infrastructures are outdated due to an increase of motor vehicles both for passengers transportation and for cargoes as well.
“We have to take into consideration that Climate Change has an overall effect in the road infrastructure therefore necessitating for quick availability of funds for repairing roads whenever they are affected by heavy rain pour,” he commented.
Implicitly he was rejecting that long experience is a prerequisite for avoidance of accidents as there have been a claim by many drivers that they know the roads after having driven in those routes for a number of years.
Kahatano who is a senior police official enriching his duties with his training as mechanical engineering from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), calls for a new psychological and technical orientation for drivers; due to the fact that potholes and road fractures are unpredictable in the current weather situation.
This, in a way, concurs with the stance by Kisunga who says driving is more than managing the control of a wheel, balancing clutches and brakes, but it entails a broad knowledge of a range of issues including the effects of Climate Change which many drivers lack.
While not tolerating reckless drivers, the police boss calls for the government to deal effectively with loopholes of accidents which at times are reported but they go unreported until when they cause accidents.
“One thing to our advantage is the fact that we have been sharing information with passengers some of them frequenters through the social media like face book, twitter and whatsapp, at times they do report of road shortcomings to us and to the responsible authorities,” he commented.
He was referring to the Ministry of Works, and the Tanzania National Roads Agency (TANROADS), but it takes a while until when these damages are repaired. While in some corners divers cannot see far away and when they face a speedy motor vehicle from the opposite direction the breaking systems fails because of the creepy roads.
He insisted that passengers should inform the traffic police whenever buses are over sped but admitted that in many cases passengers shift the blame to the drivers even if they had not tried to warn drivers before the occurrence of accidents.
In August 2012 an umbrella body of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) the Policy Forum conducted a Breakfast Debate at the British Council to discuss the hazardous accidents. The debate was focused on how to get rid of road accidents.
Dr. Hannibal Bwire from the UDSM Faculty of Engineering and Mr.Josh Palfreman from the Amend.Org presented papers on how to avoid accidents. The discussant at the event was Mr. Oscar Kikoyo Executive Secretary, Surface and Marine Transport Consumer Consultative Council.
At this event Ms. Dominata Rwechungura a trainer at the Cyclist Organization (UWABA) expressed herself in horror after she had lost her husband a year earlier in 2011. Participants at the event vowed to utilize all resources at their disposal in order to avoid the spate of disastrous accidents but to date three years the situation is even worsening.
This reporter took advantage of his passenger bus travel on Wednesday this week, after he boarded a bus owned by Zuberi & Sons Co. Ltd from Dar es Salaam where the journey started at 06.00 A.M. reaching Nyegezi bus stand in Mwanza at 00.05 mid night the passenger vehicle was driven by a single driver for the whole route proving the theory that some accidents are caused by overtiredness.
This story was prepared in the collaboration of Elias Mhegera and Asha Abinallah being a practical session in integrating statistics and data during the Data Journalism Course that was conducted in the collaboration of the Tanzania Media Fund (TMF) and the European Journalism Centre (EJC), instructors were Peter Verweij and Josh LaPorte