The cost of flouting road safety laws

27Sep 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
The cost of flouting road safety laws

ACCORDING to a paper ‘Road Safety in Tanzania: What Are the Problems?’ authored by Cuthbert W. Chiduo and Philemon Minja, the cost of road accidents in Tanzania has recently been estimated at 20bn/- annually yet penalties for traffic offences hinge on the comical.

The human error part involves negligence or mere carelessness on the part of motorists and questionable practices when it comes to police enforcement of traffic laws.

The Road Traffic Act was enacted in 1973. At that time, fines were 2,000/- to 3,000/ and this was recently reviewed in 1996 to 20,000/- and later to 30,000/-, the paper notes. The revised penalties are not deterrent enough, according to the authors of the paper.

The authors were Traffic Engineering and Management Engineer and Vehicle Safety Engineer, Road Safety Unit in the then Ministry of Works respectively (now Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), major risk factors for road crashes include drink driving, speeding, child restraints, helmets and seat belts.

However, setting and enforcing safety laws relating to these major risk factors and creating awareness cannot be overemphasised.

To deal with the problem, the government in early August unveiled a six month strategy focusing on curbing high risk factors including discreet measures to rein in corruption and ensure effective enforcement of traffic laws and regulations.

National Road Safety Council chairman who is also the deputy minister for Home Affairs, Hamad Masauni named three major factors causing road accidents as human error, poor infrastructure and defective motor vehicles.

The human error part involves negligence or mere carelessness on the part of motorists and questionable practices when it comes to police enforcement of traffic laws.

The minister had said that a nationwide campaign to monitor traffic police and motorists who solicit and give bribes has started with immediate effect and that legal action will be taken against those who would be found engaging in graft.

The campaign is to be carried out by the police force, ministry of home affairs and Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) officials.

Masauni said a special mechanism employed to curb corruption on the road basically aims to establish a number of traffic police and drivers who disobey traffic laws.

But will these measures deter who is who in society from blatantly flouting traffic laws? Since the measures are yet to be tested, authorities can enjoy the benefit of doubt for now, but why do people break traffic laws in the first place?

Dr Misanya Bingi, a sociologist at the University of Dar es Salaam, says that the elite and affluent flout traffic regulations at will because of their positions in society.

“There is this perceived notion among these individuals that breaking traffic laws is a minor offence and that they can easily get away with it,” he said.

Dr Bingi further notes that for the police it is like a catch 22, they seem hapless because they have to make the difficult choice of being diligent and enforce the law or ensuring their job security.

Some have fresh memories of their colleagues who took action against offenders and were other given desk jobs or transferred to parts of the country where it is difficult to “make a living”, he adds.

On whether the police would be able to act on President John Magufuli’s directive not to fear anyone because no one is above the law, Dr Bingi says since it came from the head of state, for the most part it will be obeyed by the rank and file but only if the force’s leadership will not be lax.

Wanton disregard of traffic laws and regulations, he says, does not augur well for the country. In the long run it only magnifies Tanzania as a society that does not observe good governance and rule of law.

“It is a socially constructed reality; and deconstructing this reality cannot happen overnight. Time and gradual transformation through education and advocacy is inevitable,” he says.

Bakari Zuberi (60), a retired driver and mechanic, started driving in 1979 and became a qualified technician in 1980 and his bragging right is that he was taught by Russians who were meticulous.

In the course of his work, he also had the privilege of driving VIPs. He calls it a privilege because securing such a job then involved a great deal of scrutiny and personal integrity and discipline were crucial to be considered to drive VIPs and not just a valid license.

The difference between now and then, he noted, is that a driver would never dare to breach traffic laws in the presence or absence of his boss because the boss would not allow that to happen in the first place.

“We did not have as good roads as we do now but there were by far fewer accidents compared to current trends. There were no comprehensive insurance covers so even the affluent who owned vehicles had to diligently adhere to traffic laws,” he said.

He also said that there are many flaws in issuing licenses, driving schools are not competent and do not offer comprehensive courses and penalties for traffic offences are not effective deterrents.

These shortcomings, he said, sire repeat offenders because they literally can afford to do so. And so the problem may be with enforcement of the traffic laws in itself.

When asked why the affluent or people with political connections are perceived to be above the law, a traffic police officer, Corporal Timothy, did not altogether brush it off as a wrong perception, but gave insight why certain people get away with breaking traffic laws.

He said that as police constables they obey orders from superior officers and in many instances when certain people are caught breaking traffic laws they tend to have a number of one senior officer or another.

“Once you have communicated and consulted with your superior and he or she gives you a directive (read command) then there is little, if anything, that you can do but obey the order,” he said.

In most of these instances, traffic officers are normally asked by their superiors to let the offenders be, and they oblige by giving the latter a verbal warning at most.

Chief Traffic Police Commander, Mohammed Mpinga, said that no one is above the law and that the police and other stakeholders are taking serious the matter of people flouting traffic laws.

“Times have changed and we are taking the matter seriously to prevent road crashes and their impact on society,” he said.