Seat belts often ignored, with fatal results

09Dec 2018
Crispin Gerald
Guardian On Sunday
Seat belts often ignored, with fatal results

I still recall an accident I survived a few years back that left my friend with severe injuries as he had not tied his seat belt, says Ayubu Mwaikambo, a Dar es Salaam resident.

A recent report by the Tanzanian traffic police road accidents in the country declined by 48 per cent in the third-quarter of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Photo: File

Mwaikambo said the accident happened in the city as he was on his way back from Iringa in March this year.

“One thing I remember is that my seat belt helped me from moving to the front of the seat, otherwise I would have sustained severe injuries,” he said.

In recent months a lot of accidents have occurred involving government vehicles and many have led to loss of lives.

Mwaikamboa said this scenario in which the vehicle was also carrying workers, the driver tried to evade a motorcycle and overturned.

A friend who hadn’t tied his seat belt was pushed to the front of the seat, knocked the dash board and front mirror, sustaining severe head injuries.

Despite the traffic police stressing the use of seat belts by motorists, a number of passengers and even drivers seem not to take the issue seriously, leading to many fatalities when an accident occurs.

“Stakeholders and responsible authorities for enforcing road traffic laws need to expand the scope of education to the public on how the seat belt is capable of saving life,” he says.

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report says that when accidents happen, passengers at the back risk being injured more than others due to the speed, as the speed of the car is the same speed at which passenger will move to hit the front part of the vehicle.

Seat belts are secondary safety devices and are primarily designed to prevent or minimize injury to vehicle occupant when a crash has occurred; they thus reduce the risk of contact with the interior of the vehicle or reduce the severity of injuries if this occurs.

Various studies globally indicate that seat-belts save lives, when worn and fitted correctly. A review of research on the effectiveness of seat-belts found that their use reduces the probability of being killed by 40-50 per cent for drivers and front seat passengers and by about 25 percents for passengers in rear seats.

The impact on serious injuries is almost as great, while the effect on slight injuries is smaller at 20-30 percent. More detailed analyses indicate that seat-belts are most effective in frontal impacts and in run-off the road crashes.

Interventions taken by stakeholders on road crash

Commenting, program officer for government and parliament engagement (law reforms) at the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), Macpherson Buberwa said there is need to change the mindset of road users (behaviour change) to understand the necessity of wearing seat belts in motor vehicles.

He said that the idea that seat belts don't help to protect against the impact of accident is invalid because the devices were technically made and tested to prove its ability to reduce the risk of injury.

There is great need for reform in the current Road Traffic Act of 1973 to clearly engage both passengers in the motor vehicles to fasten seat belts.

“The law is still having some weaknesses as it speaks only about passengers sitting in front of the car while neglecting passengers sitting at the rear,” he said.

“This is too risky, on grounds that passengers sitting at the back without wearing seat belts are at risk of being thrown out through the front mirror when the vehicle is involved in a crash,” Buberwa explained.

The WHO report underlined that fastening the seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury by up to 50 percent for front seat passengers while for rear seat occupants it reduces risk by up to 75 percent. 

It says there are several illegal means done by owners of vehicles especially buses to change original seats and arrangement, replacing them with fake ones in order to carry more passengers. This directly weakens effectiveness of seat belts while some are totally removed, the program officer underlined.   

Nevertheless, Buberwa said there are various drivers in public and private transport who consider wearing of seat belt as less necessary, the reason being flexibility and effectiveness in controlling the vehicle.       

The Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) is the Bar association for Tanzania Mainland, dating back to a 1954 Ordinance and later reconstituted by an Act of Parliament. The association has joined the government’s hand to reduce the risk of road crashes and end accidents altogether.    

Tanzania in collaboration with WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies Global Road Safety Programme are implementing a five-year Road Safety Programme (2015-19) that aims at reducing the risk of road traffic accidents.

The goal of the project is to strengthen road safety laws in a broad sense, from legislation on safe driving to ensuring the safety of the roads directly.

Figures for deaths, injuries and accidents resulting from road crashes in the three police regions  of Dar es Salaam were also given in the report.

Traffic Police data shows that deaths resulting from road crashes in Temeke police region were reduced from 44 in 2017 to 22 in this year, up to October 2018.   

Deaths resulting from road crashes at Kinondoni police region decreased from 125 in 2017 to 83 in 2018, with seat belts helping to reduce the fatality of road crashes.

Nevertheless, data from Ilala police region shows that deaths resulting from road accident in 2017 reached 47 and decreased to 29 deaths by October 2018. 

The decrease in the number of deaths and injury depict that the public is now aware with precautions are needed in strengthening road user safety.

This among other things includes wearing of seat belts while on the vehicle, drivers to reduce speed and stop drinking and drive. 

The role played by Traffic Police 

The principal legal officer for Traffic Police headquarters, Deus Sokoni, said that although it is mandatory for every passenger to wear the seat belt while on vehicles, still the main law on road safety has some loopholes that weaken the order to wear the seat belts. 

“Wearing of seat belts is mandatory to every passenger and driver once they are in a motor vehicle and not otherwise,” the officer declared.

“The seat belts are crucial to every passenger as it protect the passenger from the facing injury when accidents occur,” he emphasized. 

The laws on road safety contradict with regulations on wearing seat belts, whereby the Transport Licensing (Public Service Vehicles) regulation 2017 requires all passengers who use motor vehicles to wear the seat belts.

He explained that one of the challenges remaining is low understanding or awareness among the public on the importance of seat belts. “The police force has and continues to provide education to members of the public to understand the importance of wearing seat belts.

“We have discovered that the best method and means to reduce road accidents is through provision of education to members of the public to understand how important is to wear the seat belt,” the legal officer underlined.