The New Times (Kigali)

25 July 2014

Rwanda: Who Is to Blame for the Fatal Road Accidents?

A horrific road accident involving two public vehicles killed 15 people and injured dozens others in Gatsibo District, Eastern Province on Tuesday this week. The fatal incident took place at an accident blackspot in the Kiziguro area along the Kigali-Kagitumba highway.

The tragedy followed several other accidents, which cost lives.

At least 1324 road accidents were reported between January and June this year, down from 2356 cases recorded over a similar period last year, with road accident deaths falling to 97 from 141, according to police report.

Police has advised motorists to take great caution every time they are on the road, especially when approaching accident blackspots.

"Drivers should always observe traffic rules to minimise the risk of accidents. But they need to take extra care in some particular spots," Supt Jean Marie Vianney Ndushabandi, the spokesman of the traffic police department, told The Saturday Times.

The blackspots are located in different locations on the country's highways.

For instance, in Southern Province, Police has warned about a blackspot corner known as Ku Mukobwa Mwiza in Huye District. Many deadly accidents have previously taken place at this spot, about three kilometers from Huye town.

Drivers have attributed the accidents at that spot to the poor state of the road and the difficulty with which motorists are required to negotiate the corner, which might explain why many accidents that have occurred there involve drivers who are unfamiliar with the road. But police attribute most accidents at the spot to speeding.

In Kamonyi District, there are blackspots at Gacurabwenge, Musambira's hill, and Gihinga's corner, according to Supt Urbain Mwiseneza, the Police spokesman in Southern Province.

In Kirehe District, Eastern Province, and in Rubavu district, Western Province (near Mahoko market) there are dangerous corners that several motorists have failed to negotiate, causing deaths in the process.

Another notorious accident blackspot is located in Nyungwe National Park, where many people have lost lives.

Ndushabandi said all these accident blackspots have one thing in common. "In most cases, they are in dangerous corners and the driver has no idea what is lying ahead; the solution is for drivers to slow down and remain vigilant whenever they are in such a situation."

Drivers point fingures:

Speaking to The Saturday Times, some drivers accused fellow drivers of recklessness. "Blackspots aside, there is official speed limit but some drivers simply disregard this. These rules need to be respected and enforced otherwise we will continue to lose lives," said David Mpira, a businessman in Kigali who has been driving for the last eight years.

"It is clear that the Gatsibo accident was caused by speeding. I could possibly understand if it had occurred in a corner which was not the case, it's clear that speeding was the major factor," he added. Both drivers in the Tuesday accident died on spot.

Mpiranya also warned against reckless driving around other notorious accident blackspots such as Kukabuga ka Musha in Rwamagana District and Kuri Buranga in Gakenke District.

Fatigue:

Some drivers also blamed most accidents on fatigue, pointing out that some motorists are behind the wheel half-asleep. A driver with Horizon Express Company that plies Kigali-Butare route said he sometimes makes five return trips to Butare everyday, which he said is wearying.

"I do it because I want to keep my job otherwise it's so challenging, that's why sometimes a driver can actually dose off behind the wheel," he told this reporter at Nyabugogo bus terminal shortly before embarking on his fourth return trip to Huye yesterday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, the driver said he has been working with Horizon Express Company for over four years now.

Last year, he narrowly avoided what could have been a fatal crash with a truck in Kamonyi, he said. "It was luck but I hit a roadside tree."

Etienne Gakuba, a truck driver, also said their bosses demand a lot from them which puts a strain on them. Speaking on Friday, he said he had just returned to Kigali from Uganda where he spent two days searching for beans to import.

He said on Thursday, the second day of their search for beans in remote Ugandan villages, truck owner called him and told him they must be in Nyabugogo, Kigali the following day (Friday), which the driver said was strenuous.

The association of transporters, known by its acronym as ATPR, admits fatigue could be playing a major part in road accidents.

Charles Ngarambe, the ATPR chairman, said "we have consulted with the traffic police department and Rura (the regulatory body) on how to handle issues related to overworking."

He said, having identified that as one of the probable causes of fatigue on the part of drivers, their association came up with a decision to introduce a form of contract between the driver and the vehicle owner, clearly stating maximum hours the former is expected to work a day.

New measures:

He said this arrangement, which may include working shifts, is expected to start next month.

With this, Ngarambe said, drivers will nolonger blame fatigue when they get involved in accidents.

Meanwhile, Supt. Ndushabandi said police has stepped up traffic surveillance on major roads, including officers riding motorbikes and in vehicles. He urged the public to stand up and help ensure their safety on the road.

Following the Gatsibo road tragedy, Internal Security minister Musa Fazil Harerimana on Wednesday convened an emergency meeting during which it was decided that public transport buses and heavy trucks must immediately install speed governors, pending ministerial instructions on new measures to curb road accidents.

The meeting also agreed on imposing severe penalties for defiant drivers, reviewing the existing instructions governing use of bicycles on main roads, and setting up of a taskforce to review and monitor road safety measures.

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