Dar es Salaam. Drivers on the 450km highway from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma face a nightmare on the high-risk road with potholes, an uneven surface and numerous accident black spots.
Nearly 14 per cent of accidents in Tanzania are blamed on poor road conditions while the rest—about 74 per cent—are due to human error, according to the current National Audit Report Survey carried out in nine regions across the country.
The report, titled The Performance Audit Report on the Management of Traffic Inspections and Speed, revealed that 12 per cent of accidents were attributed to mechanical conditions of the vehicles.
Mr Samuel Kavishe, 45, a bus driver, has not forgotten the day he narrowly avoided causing an accident as he tried to avoid a pothole that was located on his driving lane at Mkundi kwa Makunganya near Morogoro Municipality early this year.
“There was a small pothole in that area for months and I was getting used to it, but on that day it had become deeper and larger. I almost lost control of the bus when I hit it,’’ he says.
He has been driving on that road for four years now.
Tanzania National Roads Agency (Tanroads) has been accused by drivers of not carrying out regular inspection and maintenance of the highway such that potholes and rusts are left to endanger motorists and their passengers.
During an investigation carried out along the highway, The Citizen established that a dangerous pothole, 75cm in diameter and about 24cm deep had remained at Mtumbatu Village in Gairo District on a road corner for over three months.
The pothole was among those counted along the highway. During the survey, the potholes appeared in different sizes and were distributed differently. Some were located in the middle of the road and others on the edge.
According to the National Road Safety Policy of 2009, a pothole on the road must be removed immediately after it has been identified and reported, but during the investigation, The Citizen found out that such potholes can be left unattended for up to three or four months.
Mr Saidi Wambura, 43, who lives at Mtumbatu Village close to the road section with the pothole, says he is usually woken up by the noise of cars bumping into the pothole at night and others overturning.
He recalls an accident on the area, where a car travelling from Dodoma to Dar es Salaam overturned and fell on the side of the road, leaving the driver and another passenger, a woman, badly injured.
“At night, some drivers fail to control their vehicles as they negotiate around this pothole because the road is badly damaged on one side, leaving the pothole in the middle of the road,’’ he says.
During an interview with the Morogoro Regional Traffic Officer, Mr Boniface Mbao, this reporter learnt that the pothole had been reported to the Morogoro Regional authorities two months before The Citizen visited the area.
Tanroads CEO Patrick Mfugale said efforts have been made in repairing some damaged road sections, although not all.
“That pothole you are saying is already on the plans, and a contractor has already been tasked to work on it. We are aware of it and several others, and it will soon be removed,’’ he told The Citizen.
He added, “The entire road needs a major overhaul. In some parts there is improvement. It takes time to repair the whole road and it’s very expensive,’’ he told The Citizen.
In 2006, the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development sponsored a study which investigated the relationships between accidents and the overall nature of the road, rather than the reasons for accidents at specific sites.
Titled Road Accident Modelling for Highway Development and Management in Developing Countries, the study analysed 260 kilometres on 13 road sections in Tanzania, including the Chalinze-Segera highway in Coast Region.
In a report published on the UK government website, the study compared Tanzania and India’s road factors in relation to road safety and revealed that the poorer the road surface conditions the higher the accident rate.
“Potholes often appear randomly distributed and can cause sudden loss of control or drivers to swerve sharply,’’ reads part of the report survey sponsored by the UK Department of International Development.
Today, as Mr Kavishe, the bus driver, continues to cruise on the highway, his relief is that the pothole at Mkundi kwa Makunganya has since been repaired by road construction agencies.
But to Mr Almas Zambi, 36, another bus driver plying the Dar es Salaam-Dodoma route, the efforts by authorities to repair one part of the road do not mean the end of driving woes. “Big potholes keep occurring at one point of the road and another and the surface is dangerously bumpy in many sections. This leads to accidents,’’ he said, although he admits that driving carelessly and speeding beyond the required limits of 80-100kph, largely contributes to most road crashes on the highway.
During a weeklong investigation along Dar es Salaam-Dodoma highway, The Citizen established how poor road infrastructure contributes to road carnage.
About 100 potholes, ranging from to 80cm in diameter, were counted by this reporter along the 450km road from Dar to Dodoma during the investigation.
On some of the road sections where this reporter camped for about two hours, the drivers were not following their lanes because of the presence of ruts on the road. A rut is a depression that wears into a road because of wheels, a civil engineer in Dar es Salaam, Mr Fidelis Mkiramweni, said.
This reporter learnt that police officers were taking specific measures by limiting the speed of the vehicles on particular sections.
One of sections is Vigwaza Village in Chalinze, Bagamoyo District. It is a 15km road section on the way to Chalinze Town from Dar es Salaam.
The Citizen established that the surface of the road is badly worn out.
Mr Mkilamweni said the depressions are caused by trucks with high axle load which create high pressure on the ground.
A traffic police officer, declined to be named, and who was found monitoring the speed of vehicles by using speed cameras in Vigwaza, said he was camping at the area because most accidents occurred on that section of the road.
But he said, “We cannot monitor and control drivers at night.” He explained that the traffic police did not have the facilities that would enable them to monitor the speed at night.
According to the National Road Safety Policy of 2009, an Engineer in Chief is supposed to carry out a periodic review of the road conditions and check if speed limits need to be altered on such road sections depending on whether it was safe to drive on the road section or not.
But the police officer told The Citizen that action is only taken when accidents have occurred more frequently in the area—not based on the engineers’ review report.
“We have had about four cases of passenger buses overturning on that area in the past two months, especially at night. More than 15 people have lost lives in that period. This is a high risk area,’’ he said.
Along the same highway, at Wami-Dakawa in Morogoro Region, The Citizen interviewed Mr Denis Manfield, one of the road constructors who were repairing a road section whose surface had many ruts. A fatal accident had occurred there four days earlier.
A driver operating a minibus from Morogoro Municipality to Dodoma lost control on the section, killing four people and leaving seven others who were aboard the vehicle injured, the Morogoro Regional Traffic Officer, Mr Boniface Mbao, later confirmed to The Citizen.
Mr Manfield believes the tyres of the vehicle could not move steadily over the ruts(depressions) during high speed, leaving the driver without control of it. “This happens quite often on most of the areas with ruts on this road,” he said.
During heavy rains, he said, the surface of the road, especially from Morogoro to Dodoma, is easily damaged by heavy cargo trucks. “We keep repairing but the road is damaged after few months,’’ he said.
A road Engineer with S&F Consultancy Limited, Mr Simon Njau, says such roads are prone to damage because of “improper design mix (of construction materials) at the base courses of the road.”
He suggests that Tanroads can address the damage created by heavy trucks, such as the ruts, by putting in place a strategy that will include mitigating climate as part of the construction, maintenance and design of the roads.
A researcher and lawyer on road traffic matters from the National Institute of Transport (NIT), Mr Augustus Fungo, noted that the construction and design of the major highway did not forecast the increase in the traffic volume of vehicles.
There needs to be major reforms to protect drivers and their passengers. The traffic volume has increased over the years and policies need to change too,’’ he said.
Sources at Tanroads show that the 224km paved road from Morogoro to Dodoma has outlived its lifespan – beyond ten years – and is prone to recurrent damage.
The road was first paved 34 years ago by the Esisa construction company through a loan from Brazil. No major overhaul of the road has been done since then.
The required lifespan is 20 years, according to Tanroads. When an accident occurs due poor road condition, Tanroads cannot be held responsible for the damages created, according to national road safety policies.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has cited the need for national governments to take proactive measures to deal with road accidents.
Statistics availed to The Citizen by the Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police at the Traffic Police Unit in Dar es Salaam, Mr Fortunatus Musilimu, show that at least 1,580 people died and 4,659 others were injured in road accidents in the country from January to June this year.
Last year, 1747 people died while 4826 others were injured during the same period. The number of deaths has increased by 167 this year.
According to the 2014 Global Accidents Report issued by the WHO, the annual road traffic deaths are predicted to reach around 1.9 million people by 2020 globally, if no measures are taken to address the matter.