16 February 2017

Tanzania: Traffic Accidents - Govt Pressured to Act Tough

Photo: Daily News
A road accident scene.

More than 1.2 million people die every year with 50 million others injured or disabled owing to road traffic crashes, says a World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Road Safety Status report of 2015. The report points out that road traffic accidents are number one cause of death among the younger generation; mostly affecting people aged 15-29. Low and middle-income countries have the highest burden and road traffic deaths.

Thus, about 90 per cent of road traffic deaths happen in low-income and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world's vehicles. According to the report, road traffic accidents pose a big threat to economic growth and human development. For low and middle income countries, the loss is more than the total amount of development assistance they receive.

At family level, beyond the enormous suffering they cause, road traffic crashes can drive a family into poverty. "Road traffic injuries also place a huge strain on national health system, many of which suffer from woeful inadequate levels of resources," says WHO National Professional Officer for the Road Safety Programme, Mary Kessi.

"Crash survivors and their families often struggle to cope with long-term consequences of the event, including the cost of medical care, rehabilitation and sometimes loss of the family breadwinner," says Ms Kessi.

"Road traffic accidents put considerable financial stress on affected families, who often must absorb medical and rehabilitation costs, funeral costs and such other costs in addition to extensive emotional strain," she adds.

The chance of dying in a road traffic crash depends on where one lives. The WHO report indicates that the rate of road traffic fatalities in Africa is 26.6 percent per 100,000 population, while it is 9.3 percent in Europe. Worryingly, Tanzania ranks poorly in road safety.

Thus, the rate of road traffic fatalities in the country stands at an alarming 32.9 percent per 100,000 population. The Traffic Police statistics show that road accidents in Mainland Tanzania claimed 3, 256 lives of which 2,580 of the deceased were men and 676 women and left 8,958 injured in 2016.

Concerned by negative repercussions caused by road carnages, an alliance of non-government organisations (NGOs) on road safety have come forward, calling for tough laws to help reduce road traffic fatalities.

The alliance, formed by 11 NGOs, seeks to create awareness on road safety and contribute towards reduction in road traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities and is appealing to government to amendment the Road Traffic Act of 1973.

The alliance argues that the government must adopt and enforce tough laws in order to change 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.

"About 76 per cent of road crashes are a result of human faults such as reckless driving, over speeding and drunkard driving. These faults can be prevented if there will be a tough laws," Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) Road Safety Project Coordinator, Ms Gladness Munuo says.

Ms Mary Richard from Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) says the existing legislation is outdated and ineffective in the current situation. She says the current national drink-driving law has set a limit of 0.08g/dl BAC for all kind of drivers, contrary to international requirement of no more than 0.05g/dl for the general population and 0.02g/dl for young or novice drivers.

"Laws that set limits on BAC of 0.05g/dl or lower together with effective enforcement can lead to significant reductions in alcohol related crashes," argues Ms Mary and she calls for tough penalties for drivers exceeding BAC limits to deter people from breaking the law. Many fatal road crashes are a result of over-speeding. According to a WHO study a 5% cut in average speed can reduce the number of fatal crashes by as much as 30%.

"Urban speed limits should be 50 km/h or less, with the ability to reduce this to 30 km/h or less where there are high concentrations of pedestrians, such as around schools, markets or residential areas," suggests the TAWLA official, quoting the WHO Global Road Safety Status report.

Road safety experts say wearing a seat-belt can reduce the risk of fatality among drivers and frontseat passengers by 45-50% and the risk of minor and serious injuries by 20% and 45% respectively.

Ms Richard highlights the weakness of the existing road traffic Act, saying it imposes seat-belt requirement only for the driver and front seat passenger, whilst sidelining those at back seats.

The Alliance further proposes amendments to Road Traffic Act so that it addresses the issue of child restraints and use of motorcycle helmets in line with international road safety standards.

"Neither current main legislation nor regulations for the RTA addresses the issue of child restrains in the motor vehicles," notes Ms Richard, revealing that the current legislation does not require a motorcycle passenger to wear helmets.

"While the laws made requires motorcyclists to wear helmets, it is silent on passengers and does not establish the type and quality of helmets. We want all these to be addressed in the main legislation.

" The alliance recently presented their outcry before the parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security, Constitution and Legal Affairs and Infrastructure committees. "As road safety stakeholders we think it is crucial the (Road Traffic) legislation is amended, and so there must be a political will.

That is why we called a dialogue between the lawmakers and different road safety stakeholders to see how we can quickly and efficiently change the legislation," says Ms Munuo.

The MPs shared concerns brought forward by the alliance and supported the move by forming a union of legislators that would push the government to make the much-needed amendments to the road traffic law.

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