Tanzania has a number of pieces of legislation primarily meant to make the country’s roads safer for all users. Examples: Motor Vehicle Insurance Ordinance, 1946 Cap. 169, Law Reform (Fatal Accidents and Miscellaneous Provisions Ordinance) (Amendments), Act 1968, Road Traffic Act 1973 (as amended in 1990), Motor Vehicle Driving School (Licensing) Act 1965, Transport and Licensing Act 1973, and Highway Ordinance.
And as so often happens, particularly in the event of grisly road smashes, one keeps hearing the authorities vowing that presumed culprits – chiefly motorists – would face the full wrath of the law if found guilty.
But what should one be expected to make out of this when the relevant pieces of legislation speak in very faint voices, so to speak, and therefore clearly belie the seriousness and magnitude of the incidents in question?.
For instance, what should one expect when all that the law says is that a motorist refusing to undergo a breath test after being required to do so (by a police officer) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding ten thousand shillings. Failure to undergo the test shall also be taken by the court as prima facie evidence that alcohol content in the accused blood was at the time he was driving a motor vehicle or any other vehicle above the prescribed limit.”
Or: “A person who when driving a motor vehicle or any other vehicle causes any damage or destruction to a traffic sign, electric pole or any other structure erected along the road commits an offence and if so convicted the court may order him to pay a sum equal to the cost of repairing any damage or destruction so caused and that sum shall be recoverable in the same manner as if it were a civil debt.”
The situation gets all the harder to deal with when some of those legally supposed to enforce the law, its deficiencies notwithstanding, suddenly look the wrong way or develop poor eyesight at times when their professional intervention is most needed. Surely, even with the best of national transport policies, there would seldom be much reduction in the carnage and destruction on our roads.
Fortunately, it has not been all complaints or blame shifting. In 1993 the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania embarked on research on the law governing road safety in the country.
The Commission was under instruction to come up with legal, management and social reform recommendations, consider the causes of road accidents, examine traffic cases and adequacy of sentences as provided for under the law, and examine the law governing the system of compensation to victims of accidents.
This is regarded as the first enquiry in Tanzania to have really seriously considered legal issues relating to road safety, mainly following a public outcry triggered by the continuing rate of carnage in road accidents.
How this particular intervention and those before and after it have helped is subject to debate, given that Tanzanian roads keep witnessing bloodbath upon bloodbath.
Last word: Let’s fight the monsters on these roads harder – as a team. Sumatra can help, but how sharp are its teeth?