Tanzania: Pricy Penalties Could Save More Lives On Roads - Experts

WHILE the bill proposing amendments to the Road Traffic Act of 1973 is set for the second reading in the Parliament, road safety stakeholders insist the new legislation must impose strict and appropriate penalties to deter persistent offenders.

Under the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations Advocating for Improved Road Safety Legal and Policy Environment in Tanzania, the stakeholders are calling for stricter penalties against misbehaving road users to curb the spate of fatal crashes in the country.

"From the fact that penalty is a broad tool for shaping individual behaviour to traffic offenders both first time and repeat offenders, we as interested stakeholders on road safety are of the opinion that when offenders are caught breaking the road rules, must consistently bear the legal consequences including penalties," says Advocate Isabela Nchimbi, Project Coordinator at Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA).

The CSOs believe that making overspeeding, alcoholimpaired driving and reckless driving a serious criminal offence could significantly reduce road carnages.

Citing studies on the effectiveness of stricter penalties, the CSOs underscore the need to introduce stiffer penalties for serious road offences, saying that will have a greater effect on reducing road traffic injuries in the country.

Heavy fines and a possible prison sentence could be a strong deterrent to risky driving behaviour, insist road safety experts.

"For the penalty to be effective and unavoidable, we recommend a government to put in place a system to collect penalties and ensure unpaid ones are followed until paid. The certainty of fines can also be ensured through effective licensing and registration systems," says Ms Nchimbi.

For a couple of years now the CSOs have taken initiatives to address persistent road traffic crashes in Tanzania, which are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths every year. The CSOs in collaboration with relevant authorities, with the support from global partners, have been orchestrating reforms aimed at improving road safety in the country.

Tanzania is among countries whose road traffic laws are yet to meet international best practices around key risk factors like speeding, drinking and driving, use of seat-belts, use of helmets and child restraints. The CSOs focused their advocacy campaign on highlighting the wide gaps in the country's Road Traffic laws that link directly to current high rate of road carnages and suggested measures to address the loopholes.

The campaign came to fruition recently after the government tabled into the Parliament the long-awaited Road Act amendment bill for first reading. It is a huge move forward in tackling the traffic hazards all over the country.

Road safety experts insist that the new legislation should introduce stricter provisions to increase the level of compliance with road safety rules among motorists and ensure stronger punitive measures against traffic violators.

This bill is considered as an important step towards strengthening the legal framework for improving road safety in Tanzania where the country's roads witness over 1500 fatalities each year.

Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation and WHO, who reviewed the current legislation, says backed by research data, increased penalties and punishments against traffic violators will help improve road safety.

"Penalties and the way they are applied through the traffic law enforcement regime to improve road safety are based on the deterrence theory principles," he says.

"The theory proposes that the individuals are deterred from offending if they perceive that there is a high risk of being caught if they break the law, and that they also fear the perceived consequences of the offence," he enlightens.

"The level of fear is said to be influenced by the individual's perceptions about the certainty, severity and swiftness of the punishment," he insists.

He says when individuals are caught breaking the rules, the penalty must not be avoidable as that will deter offenders and would-be offenders.

"Some people may not be deterred by the threat of penalties when they successfully avoid it/ or observe others achieve similar outcomes," he warns against penalty avoidance.

"Immediate administrative licence suspension for high level drink driving and speeding offences is used in countries with relatively good road safety performance," adds Mr John, insisting that perceptions about the overall costs of offending must outweigh the benefit of offending for deterrence to work.

"The level of severity may be manipulated by changing the size of a monetary fine amount, the number of points, and/ or duration period of penalties including licence sanctions, vehicle impoundment, alcohol interlock use, or imprisonment." Road safety offenders should be punished swiftly, adds Mr John.

"Penalties applied close in time to when the illegal behaviour is performed are more likely to produce stronger learning of not repeating the behaviour," he argues.

For the new legislation to be effective, it should be backed by consistent, sustained enforcement and public education, insists Mr Jones, who advises the government to establish an independent traffic court dedicated to managing traffic offences only.

"This (establishment of an independent traffic court) can create a norm relating to the seriousness of road traffic offences, independent of a norm relating to other crimes," he argues.

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