THINKING ALOUD: Tips to the new minister on how to reduce accidents

Thursday July 19 2018

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji 

In the past few months, I have written three articles on the epidemic of motor traffic accidents (MTAs).

Apart from the increased mortality, those who are injured become disabled perhaps for the rest of their lives and lead an extremely poor quality of life, thus my deep concern about this topic.

Had the previous minster read those articles at least he would be better informed of why MTAs have increased so drastically.

But first, sincere congratulations Minister Kangi Lugola, I wish you well in your new position. It seems that you have started on the right footing by taking action against the regional and district leadership responsible for road safety.

I also agree with you about disbanding the road safety committees, they were nothing but a parody.

The most important issue to solve this menace and national disaster is first to have a correct diagnosis, WHAT IS THE PRIMARY REASON FOR MTAs. Once you know the reason it becomes easier to treat the problem.

Honourable minister, take it or leave it, the primary reason for MTAs is corruption in the traffic force. If you can eliminate corruption which has grown deep roots MTAs will decrease by almost 90 per cent.

How you will do this I leave it to your best judgment.

It is logical and I expect at this juncture readers will ask where is the evidence that corruption causes MTAs.

The given reasons for recent accidents that have claimed many lives include speeding, brake-failure and drivers unable to control the vehicle. Seems alcohol intake has not been measured but it could also be a reason.

All these reasons are part of breaking the law and should have been detected before the occurrence of these accidents. Why was there failure in the detection?

In these accidents were the licenses of the drivers checked and scrutinized? One can have a valid authentic license but it was obtained by paying something extra hence proper testing was waived off, it’s this sort of drivers who are incompetent and they are many on the road.

One wonders how a passenger bus that departs from Arusha at 7 am is seen by noon in Dar. With all this speed limits and all the traffic stops but still these buses travel at speeds between 120 to 140 kph and they ply with impunity.

As if they have been licensed to travel at that speed while the rest of the private vehicles are subject to speed limits. When these buses pass traffic barriers they are not stopped and visibly a small envelope is thrown out of the window, which traffic officers retrieve. At Sh2,000 per envelop, assuming 200 buses that pass and there are about 18 stops, everyday 7.2 million shillings exchange hands in the form of corruption.

Do not take this challenge lightly because there is per year a multi-billion-corruption industry in operation.

Honorable Minister, lets be honest about this, who in Tanzania does not know that controlling speed by using the radar gun along the highway will never have any impact on accidents except collection of revenue mostly from private cars.

There is an unwritten, unspoken sign language used by drivers to inform incoming vehicles that there is a traffic police stop and all vehicles are aware of this ahead of a few kilometers except maybe visitors. I am sure you and the rest of the leadership are aware of this language. So the vehicles slow down but in between such stops there is freedom to speed up.

The goal of the traffic force is to harass, hassle and bully the law-abiding citizens especially the city dwellers.

As an illustration a mother is taking her children to school or going to the market-she cannot speed because of long queues, she has properly belted but still she will be stopped, harassed, fined or asked for money without receipt. Fatal accidents happen on the highway killing many people but here are the traffic officers wasting time and resources to harass and bully innocent citizens.

So is the goal to prevent accidents or cause inconveniences, hassles and undue, undignified stresses or have extra income or is it to increase government revenue. I leave the reader to have his or her own inference.

The numerous safety weeks that requires a farce sticker is another mockery and a photo session for the traffic force. It has no impact on accident reduction albeit it maybe promoting accidents for obvious reasons-the stickers are on sale and vehicles are not inspected for roadworthiness. The recent vehicle inspection lead by your deputy (surprised that the axe did not include him) and which I wrote about in May-2018, can anyone explain how successful it has been to reduce accidents?

Honorable Minister corruption is like rape, it takes place in secrecy and through intimidation. Appoint officers in leadership positions who hate and are allergic to corruption and accidents will go down.

Select effective strategies not measures that create more fertile grounds for corruption. Locking up drivers for traffic offences will create a greener pasture for more corruption and more accidents.

Unfortunately and sadly, in Tanzania the combination of a low enforcement level, frequent corruption of traffic police officers, and low public awareness dooms any traffic regulation, including speed control, to failure. I sincerely wish you success.