Tanzania: Children's Safety On Roads Not Guaranteed

JULY 26, 2020 posed yet another huge setback in the country's road safety crusade after a vehicle hit a group of students, killing two and leaving seven others injured.

The unfortunate students were jogging in the morning along a highway in Babati, in Manyara Region, when the unknown vehicle fatally hit them. According to eyewitnesses the wayward driver veered off the road and hit the students who were trotting back to school as part of the routine early morning exercise.

Manyara Regional Police Commander, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (SACP), Paul Kasabago identified the victim as Teckla Petro, aged 14, a form II student, and Salome Noel, aged 16, a form three student. The two died at the scene.

"The driver's recklessness has caused the loss of lives of the two students, who bore huge expectations," said SACP Kasabago. Sadly, the vehicle that hit the students did not stop to help, said Mr Kasabago. The police could not provide a description of the vehicle. It was the second such horrible incident this year.

In February, five pupils at Ndelenyuma Primary School, located at Madaba in Songea, Ruvuma, were killed when a vehicle ran on them as they were walking back home from school. Children are one of the most vulnerable road users, no matter how they travel.

In Tanzania, given the rapid urbanisation accompanied by an increasing number of vehicles, road traffic injury rates have remained stable or soared in recent years. According to the World Health Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, road traffic injuries are currently the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

The report says that every four minutes a child is lost on the roads of the world and many more are severely injured. Realization of strong laws and severe enforcement of laws to enhance safety of the roads and vehicles in protection of the children is one area that has been neglected, exposing children to road traffic deaths and injuries.

Pillar number four of the Decade of Action for Road Safety calls for member states to start road safety behaviour awareness, raise and teach minimum basic road safety rules to children with the focus on safe street crossing and navigation on sidewalks.

The UN decade of Action 2011-2020 on the same pillar's activities also requires the member states to enhance awareness on rules of the road beyond drivers by road safety programmes at schools and by targeted awareness raising campaigns.

Looking to address this big challenge, the Traffic Police in the country set up various road safety education programmes with among them including a junior patrol plan to reduce the risk of injury and death to children from road trauma.

Through its road safety department, the Police Force has introduced road safety curriculums and special training to teachers and parents to understand evidence based road safety education and easily locate road safety education resources and information.

The Head of Legal Department at the Traffic Police Headquarters, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Deus Sokoni, says the programmes are bearing fruits in controlling road traffic accidents involving children. The Traffic Police Annual Reports for the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 shows that road traffic crashes in children drastically decreased.

Deaths for children aged between 0-18 decreased from 294 in 2017 to 52 in 2019 while those injured decreased from 832 in 2017 to 177 in 2019. ASP Sokoni says the decrease is attributed to the education programmes through which various activities were conducted towards protecting children on using roads.

"Before the start of road safety education programmes in schools, the country experienced high rates of road and deaths of children, but since we launched the programmes with the junior patrol, we have experienced a decrease of road fatalities for children," he says.

The education programmes encouraged and supported the role that teachers and parents play in helping children to be safe when using roads. ASP Sokoni says that traffic police conducted various trainings for teachers, earlier childhood professionals and parents encouraging and supporting their roles in helping children to be safe road users.

A total of 100 teachers from Geita, Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions have received the training. They trained 150 and 1200 teachers in Tanga and Dar es Salaam regions respectively. The traffic department also stationed traffic school road patrols on busy crossways close to schools to support the children crossing roads to and from schools.

The education programmes also led to setting of road safety signs along the main and local roads near schools to sound a warning to drivers, motorcyclists to take safety measures in protecting children crossing the roads. One of such signs is 'Go' and 'Stop' posts which alert drivers, motorcycle riders and the rest of road users to take precautions when passing through roads bordering schools.

"We have had various training sessions for parents to help them inculcate road safety behaviour which ensures their children are safe when using the roads," he said.

On the other hand, ASP Sokoni says that the set programmes have also strengthened the need to review the road safety regulations with a view to set and enforce laws requiring speed limits appropriate to the function of the road, laws requiring seat-belts or child restraints for all motor vehicle occupants.

"The Road traffic Act 1973 does not define ways to protect children and for that matter the review of the road traffic Act is vital towards setting and enforcing laws to protect children as road users," he said. Concerned with the existing legal loopholes, a coalition of diverse civil society organizations, calls for national and international actions in realization of the strong road safety laws to protect the children.

The coalition has been advocating for strong laws and enforcement of those laws to enhance road safety for all user groups and urges more focus on children, who need more protection as they go to schools. The coalition includes attorneys, media advocates, road safety ambassadors and disability rights.

Checking and controlling speed in school environments is very important to avoid these preventable loss of young lives, says Ms Gladness Munuo, a Road Safety Advocate and Project Coordinator at Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA).

Ms Munuo says that the country has made some progress in setting up school crossing markings, and intensifying junior petrol activities around roads close to schools and playing grounds among other areas.

"The road safety authorities have made some progress in ensuring the safety of children especially as they go to schools, intensifying of junior patrol and identification of school crossing markings marks a good progress," she says. She, however, says more efforts are needed to curb road crashes against minors.

Strong legislation and effective enforcement of the same will be a step in the right direction towards enhancing the safety of children on the country's roads. She also underscores the need to expand and maintain provision of road safety education to children so that they become more aware of the subject and eventually adhere to safety measures and precautions.

Lack of child restraints provision

Non-use of child restraints is a major risk factor for road traffic deaths and injuries among children. Child restraints can effectively prevent or reduce the severity of injuries sustained. The absence in Tanzania of a legislation that makes mandatory the use of child-restraints hampers compliance among motorists, with the use of these safety devices still very poor.

Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation and WHO, who reviewed the Road Traffic Act, 1973, says it is important that the public are aware of the danger that children are in if they are not using the appropriate restraints, fitted correctly within the vehicle.

According to Mr Jones John, the RTA is outdated and does not meet the international threshold for laws due to the absence of a provision on child restraints.

He says international standards require that children of up to 7 years of age should be using restraints to avoid injuries and deaths in case of crashing and argues that the law must make use of child restraint mandatory and impose deterrent penalty for non-compliance.

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