A few years ago, with road traffic smashes and crashes having inflicted a heavy toll on Tanzania in terms of loss of life and limb as well as massive damage and destruction of all manner of property, the government made it mandatory for passenger service vehicles to be fitted with road speed limiting gadgets. The devices were later to be popularly known as ‘speed governors’.
Did the plan work as planned or expected? To be honest, the answer is a big NO. Among the reasons the project ended up as a costly failure were that on some buses the gadgets were soon maliciously tampered with and so became hopelessly defective, while in some cases it was just the usual practice of those supposed to ensure compliance with the law or particular rules and regulations conveniently elected to look the wrong way as motorists misbehaved.
The carnage on our roads has a long history and, some of the blame traditionally – and understandably –heaped on the number of motor vehicles relative to the state of roads as well as on the condition of those vehicles, recklessness by motorists and other road users.
Invoking the law has done little to stem the tide, as there was just too much leniency in whatever legal and other measures were supposed to serve as deterrents.
It is not uncommon for motorists to cause grisly road crashes today, face some short-lived trouble such as having to pay some small fine and soon resuming driving. In fact, a recent attempt to raise the fine some road traffic offences caused so much uproar that the changes were revoked!
So, we are swinging along with our lenient rules and regulations very much in place and with some of our major roads vastly improved or expanded but with no let-up in the carnage.
Now, President Jakaya Kikwete yesterday inaugurated this year’s edition of the national road safety week, using the occasion to remind an accident-prone nation that road traffic crashes have such a disastrous effect on human life and the national economy that everybody has the legal and moral obligation to chip in with ideas and action likely to translate into some relief.
But how many of us will take that presidential reminder seriously enough to treat our roads more responsibly, to ensure motor vehicles do not rebel and degenerate into killer monsters, and generally to make our roads safer?
We know traffic police personnel who really know and care for what they ought to do are doing a lot towards that end. But there are too few of them to serve the whole of Tanzania to satisfaction. There is also the sad fact that many of our people, including some motorists holding state-of-the-art smart-card driving licences, are not adequately knowledgeable about safe and responsible road use.
Ensuring sustainable safety on our roads is a tall order. But it is not a goal we can’t achieve. There are countries that have made giant strides in this. Let’s seriously learn from their experience. That we must do, or marking National Road Safety Week will be a seven-day waste of time and various other resources.