This is due to the fact that a vehicle defect found during an inspection could go a long way to preventing the occurrence of an accident, thereby saving both human life and property.
According to the Tanzania traffic police, all the 380-400 buses which leave the Ubungo Bus Terminal (UBT) in Dar es Salaam daily are inspected by a team of professional traffic police before setting off.
“Vehicles need daily inspection because most of them are imported with original spare parts, but after some time they are replaced with other spare parts, some of which are fake or substandard and hence wear out easily,” a traffic police inspector at UBT, Ibrahim Omar, said.
Inspector Ibrahim said a genuine spare part can sometimes be as expensive as Sh140, 000 but a bus owner can easily replace it with a substandard one costing only Sh35,000.
“This is why we need to conduct inspection on a daily basis,” he said. Through inspection traffic police want bus owners to maintain the standard of vehicle spare parts to avert or reduce unnecessary accidents resulting from wear and tear.
However, he said most bus owners and transport firms often buy inferior spare parts in order to cut costs and maximize profit. “This makes us bar up to 20 buses from embarking on their journeys owing to defects,” he said.
He also pointed out that allowing a bus with a technical fault to go on its journey puts the lives of passengers at risk. “Most technicians know how to solve technical faults for their buses, but at times they are unaware of how to find a fault in their vehicles,” he said.
According to him, after inspection, traffic police on duty normally fill in a form detailing the faults needing to be looked at by the owners before setting off.
The inspection at UBT usually starts at 5 in the morning till evening. He says most buses at the terminal are very old but have been modified to have a deceptive new look to entice passengers.
“We sometimes get involved in squabbles with passengers whenever we stop a bus for inspection…passengers usually shout abusive language at us without knowing that we are actually ensuring their safety,” he said.
The police inspector said at times traffic police are disappointed with passengers but an inspection has to go on because it is their duty. He mentioned lack of inspection tools as among challenges they face.
The tools include inspection pits and the use of manual technology for inspection instead of electronic techniques. At the UBT, the Guardian witnessed complaints from passengers and drivers during a recent survey as the traffic police were carrying out inspection of buses.
A passenger, Elieneza Msofe, travelling to Arusha from Dar es Salaam, said the inspection was good but it was supposed to be done far earlier, not when their journey is about to start. Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Deus Sokoni told the Guardian that 381 accidents were caused by vehicle defects last year, 161 of which occurred between January-September, this year.
He said automobile inspection is a legal requirement and not voluntary by drivers and owners of buses. He said the Road Traffic Act 2002 Section 39 says no motor vehicle or trailer shall be used on a road or in any other public place unless the motor vehicle or trailer and all parts thereof and its equipment, including its chassis, engine, gear system, brake system, bodywork or any part thereof, tyres and lights, are in good repair and in efficient working order.
“…Any police officer of, or above, the rank of inspector who has reason to believe that a motor vehicle or trailer has ceased to be fit for the purpose for which it is registered, may order that the motor vehicle or trailer be produced for examination by a vehicle inspector at a specified time and place,” it further specifies.
On the other hand, the Passenger Rights Association, dubbed CHAKUA, lauded bus inspections, saying they contribute significantly to reducing road accidents.
CHAKUA Chairman Hassan Mchanjama told the Guardian recently that they receive a lot of complaints from passengers about inspections, alleging that they delay them. “Passengers understand the importance of inspection, but they fault the time at which it is undertaken,” he said.
According to him, the inspection of all passenger buses is conducted in the morning when the passengers are already on board ready for their trip. He said there was a need for bus owners and drivers to agree on the times of conducting inspection, for instance in the evening.
“Bus inspection does not take more than five minutes, but the number of buses waiting for inspection is the main cause for delays,” he said. T
he Tanzania Bus Owners Association (TABOA) applaud on-the-spot inspection, saying it was being conducted by professional inspectors. “We support pre-trip inspection because, besides checking the bus’s condition, it also protects passengers’ lives,” TABOA Secretary General Enea Mrutu pointed out.
He said some bus owners do not submit their vehicles for inspection in the evening, causing queues and delays in the morning. Mrutu explained that they agreed that all buses which arrived early at Ubungo should be submitted for inspection in the evening so as to reduce congestion during morning inspection.
He appealed to bus owners to obey the order to enable inspectors to work more efficiently and so avert unnecessary delays. Mrutu added that despite the good contribution by vehicle inspection in reducing road crashes through vehicle inspection, infrastructure challenges negated the efforts.
He cited an example of UBT, saying that there are a lot of potholes inside the station which could cause defects on buses. According to up-country bus operators interviewed by this paper, some owners of buses plying up-country routes were reluctant to undertake regular servicing owing to increased costs.
“Daily police inspections help us to force the owners to have the buses serviced and change some worn out parts,” they said. According to traffic police, the EAC partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan have different vehicle inspection standards.
To address this, there is a need to agree and adopt a single vehicle inspection standard to ensure road traffic accidents are reduced in the EAC bloc. Meanwhile, according to the improvement of road safety in Tanzania mainland report 2017, the vehicle inspection process required by the law is for all intents and purposes ineffectual.
Evidence provided to the review team suggested that at most the average vehicle only receives a visual inspection by the vehicle examiner. “…The vehicle inspection process is completely incapable either within the legal framework or more importantly practicality of examining and assessing the ‘high end’ modern vehicle fleet currently seen on the road network,” it pointed out.
The report recommended that a new comprehensive vehicle inspection system be put in place as it could not be achieved by scaling up what is presently done.
“Vehicle inspection is primarily a manual process as only braking, tracking and exhaust systems can be done in an ‘automated’ vehicle inspection,” the report said in part.