‘Untouchable’ Government Vehicles Causing Carnage on Roads

Road accident

November 3, 2018//-Over the past five months or so, a spate of grisly traffic accidents involving Serikali ya Tanzania (STK) government vehicles was witnessed on Tanzanian roads.

The first crash on May 21 killed three Tanzania Investment Centre senior officials on the spot. It was a head-on collision along the two-lane Chalinze-Bagamoyo highway.

Subsequent police investigations revealed that the driver was speeding and veered into the oncoming lane of the highway as a truck approached from the opposite direction.

The second STK-crash happened on July 29, when a Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment vehicle crashed at Katoro, in Geita Region.

The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle while trying to steer clear of a group of pedestrians. Two persons, the ministry’s information officer and a pedestrian died. In addition, five ministry officials, including the assistant permanent secretary, sustained injuries.

The third crash on August 4 was, unfortunately, “ministerial.” It involved Dr Hamisi Kigwangalla, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, who was en route to Dodoma City from official duties in Arusha.

The minister was badly injured and still recuperating. His accompanying information officer died straightaway and his bodyguard was seriously injured.

The crash was the result of a wildlife-vehicle-collision in famous Marambo wildlife corridor that links Tarangire and Lake Manayara National Parks.

Reportedly traveling in the wee hours, the minister’s vehicle overturned when his driver abruptly spotted a giraffe crossing the road. He then attempted to swerve on the other side, causing the vehicle to overturn.

Yet, the Marambo wildlife corridor sports more than sufficient wildlife corridor warning signs and speed limits to ensure the safety of both motorists and wildlife.

The fourth and latest crash on October 21 saw five Ministry of Agriculture officials perish right on the highway across Manyoni district. Traffic police vehicle speed monitoring footage has shown that the late driver had been twice ordered to stop for possible booking over the speeding irregularity.

Instead, he disregarded the police commands and chose to speed off in order to overtake two vehicles ahead of his vehicle to escape the wrath of the law.

In the end game, the STK vehicle collided head-on with a truck driving in the opposite direction.

One common absurdity one experiences on Tanzania’s highways is the sight of traffic police officers at driver check points helplessly turning to bully bystanders when they note an approaching STK vehicle motoring at irregular speeds, or even openly violating road safety rules.

On many occasions, STK-drivers flash their headlights to signal “untouchable kings of the road.” But don’t forget their passengers are the country’s most senior bosses, including ministers!

In contrast, any road traffic irregularity committed by private car drivers is swiftly dealt with by fines or road foul points recorded on licences or even revocation of licences for serious breach of road safety rules.

Usually, traffic police officers on duty would spell out the following statement to the errant private driver: You have committed an offence that could potentially endanger your own life and lives of other innocent road users.

In the fraternity of public vehicle drivers, you will hear of an irritating reference to “a government cannot take to task its own department.”

It is understandable that the job of traffic police officers is to direct the movement of vehicles on the road and to stop drivers who are breaking the law and give them an official notice of their offence.

This standard enforcement arrangement is intended to ensure road safety for all users. But even senior traffic police officers say they fear strictly applying the rules to government vehicles.

On top of things, the prevailing negative public’ attitude about road traffic law, rules, regulations and enforcement agents is a thing to be strategically addressed.

And anyway, one would expect STK-drivers and their boss-passengers to demonstrate leadership on adherence to traffic rules.

The WHO’s 2015 estimates showed that about 16,000 persons are killed annually on Tanzanian roads. Although government figures put 2017 road crash fatalities at 2,379, these are still chilling numbers because overall, 3.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product is annually lost due to road traffic crashes.

Even with proposed policy changes, Tanzania faces yet more serious challenges in its road safety system. For example, the Road Traffic Act does not compel passengers in public transport to fasten their seat belts.

But the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) law requires that all passenger vehicles be fitted with seat belts in each seat and passengers be compelled to put them on while travelling.

Fortunately, there is an ongoing road traffic laws reform project designed to harmonise road traffic legislation and adapt to a changing society and situations. A Bill to that effect may soon land in parliament.

John P. Mireny is a media and development consultant based in Dar es Salaam. E-Mail: mireny.john@gmail.com

This article was originally published on theeastafrican.co.ke.

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