THIRTY two innocent school-children, two teachers and a driver breathedtheir last prematurely last Saturday in what will certainly go down as one of the most horrific road traffic accidents to have hit the country. Everyone was in tears.
The nation has been left in a state of shock and grief. Africa has mourned, the world has grieved.
A school bus crashed, claiming the lives of 32 pupils, the teachers and driver on spot. The minibus plunged into a roadside ravine when descending on a steep hill in rainy condition, in Karatu District, Arusha region.
Onemore victim passed away at hospital. Three children, meanwhile, sustained severe injuries and are still fighting for their lives.
The dreams of these immaculate 32, 7th grade school children from Lucky Vincent primary school, whose promising lives were just starting, were cruelly cut short. Their mothers and fathers’ dreams have painfully evaporated with the unexpected loss of their loved children.
The nation lost a bunch of vibrant youths, who represented the future of the nation and its workforce. But three families lost bread winners. At Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium, thousands of mourners led by Vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan gathered on Monday to pay their last respect to the fallen youths. Watching the caskets carrying the bodies of the 36 victims left many mourners with unbearable pains.
People across both sexes broke down and wept profusely. The horrific accident regrettably happened two days after the country had hosted to the first ever international training for Road Safety National Data Coordinators in Dar es Salaam region.
The two-day workshop, a WHO initiative drew participants from 37 countries and sought to equip them with necessary tools to address challenges related to data collection for road traffic accidents, the ultimate goal being making roads safer and reduce the high number of crashes, injuries and fatalities in the country.
The terrible accident coincidentally occurred two days to the 4th United Nations Global Road Safety Week, commemorated from 8-14 May, 2017, with a focus on managing speed --one of the main risk factors for road crashes across the world.
Shamefully, such horrific accident that claimed the lives of innocent children occurred in between such global initiatives designated to save lives by making the road transport sub-sector safer for all road users.
The Karatu tragic accident will definitely be forgotten by many in the coming months; but the scars will forever and ever remain with their parents and relatives.
For them, the damage is irreparable. Nonetheless, while the accident served as a deplorable reminder to policy and decision makers that significantly more action is needed to make the road transport sub-sector safer.
A few questions pertinent to road safety measures may be asked of the indescribable tragedy in Karatu. Did the children, teachers and driver put on seat belts? Was the speed appropriate? Was the car in good condition and proved safer to transport the pupils?
Were there road signs to warn the driver about the steep hill ahead? Did the driver observe defensive driving? A ‘yes’ to all these questions could have saved the lives of those involved in the accident.
But somewhere, something was wrong and the outcome was catastrophic. And this suggests that the road safety law need to be made more comprehensive while enforcement should be strengthened.
Tanzania is among countries with high number of road crashes. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, the number of reported deaths due to road crashes has reached more than 4,000 a year; thus, on an average day, 10 people die on roads.
Road accidents are currently ranked the third highest cause of death in the country after HIV/AIDS and Malaria. Thus, the risk of road traffic death is highest in Tanzania, compared to most African countries.
And according to the 3rd Global Status on Road Safety of 2015, road related crashes were estimated to wipe out about over 3 per cent of Tanzania’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Appallingly, the country continues to feature in the bottom of World Health Organisation country rankings of road traffic accidents. The country’s 21th bottom ranking out of 180 member states indicates the hazards associated with road transportation in a country that is largely dependent on its road network for economic, social and physical activities.
The road transport carries over 80% of passenger traffic and over 75 per cent of freight traffic, according to recent report by Controller and Audit General (CAG) recent report on road furniture.
Unfortunately, necessary infrastructural development, policy changes and levels of enforcement have not kept pace with vehicle use. Concerned about the continuing high rate of road accidents and the unnecessary consequential waste of lives and properties, different stakeholders, notably the WHO have been calling for urgent measures to improve safety in road transport subsector.
The WHO set out the Fourth United Nations Global Road Safety Week, climaxing this Sunday, to increase understanding of the dangers of speed, one of the key factors for road traffic deaths and injuries, and to generate action on measures to address speed, thereby saving lives.
The Global Road Safety Week’s overall goal is to contribute towards saving lives on the world’s roads, which is a priority on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal targets 3.6 and 11.2.
And this year’s event had been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety on May 11, 2011.
According to WHO excessive and inappropriate speed contributes to around half of all fatal road crashes in low and middle income countries, Tanzania included and the UN organ relevant authorities to introduce countrywide speed watch programmes to create greater awareness about the dire consequences of speed and the benefit of reducing speed.
The WHO has identified a number of interventions that can be taken to manage the adverse effects of speed.
These include building or modifying roads to include features that calm traffic, establishing and enforcing speed limits appropriate to the function of each road, installing intelligent speed adaptation technology and autonomous emergency braking in vehicles, and raising awareness among drivers about the dangers of speeding.
WHO says speed management campaigns serve many functions; “They not only help people learn about the dangers of speeding, but also about the penalties they may face if they break speed limit laws.”
National Traffic Police Commander Mr Mohamed Mpinga concurs that speed is the leading risk factor that contributes to both road crashes as well as the severity of the injuries.
“Excess and inappropriate speed are responsible for a high proportion of the mortality and morbidity that result from road crashes.
Controlling vehicle speed can prevent crashes happening and can reduce the impact when they do occur, lessening the severity of injuries sustained by the victims,” says ACP Mpinga.
Looking to curb the rising tide of road accident-related deaths and casualties, Traffic Police has taken a number of measures including, use of speed cameras, popular as torch system, sought to force motorists to observe road safety measures.
According to Mr Mpinga this mechanism has largely minimized road accidents in the country’s highways but he says more mechanisms and strategies are needed to curb road accidents.
“Road safety is a shared responsibility.
Reducing the risks in the nation’s road traffic systems require commitment and informed decision making by government, industries, non-government organizations and participation by people from different disciplines,” argues Mpinga.