THE inception of motorcycle taxis in Tanzania, popularly known as bodabodas, brought with it relief to commuters as the two-wheeler provided a reliable means of transport by operating where conventional services were uneconomical or physically impossible to maneuver.
This saw the motorcycles increasingly becoming a preferred mode of transportation by people from all walks of life, in both urban and rural areas, resulting in the country experiencing a mushrooming of bodabodas in the last decade.
Though bodabodas, play a crucial role in improving mobility within cities and other areas, and providing livelihood to many unemployed youths, a worrying trend of fatal crashes accompanying this paradigm shift in the transportation sub sector has emerged.
Motorcycle taxis have become a thorn in the flesh for authorities as they wantonly retrogress the gains of promoting road safety in the country. And, the substantial growth in the use of motorized two-wheelers in Tanzania is being accompanied by an increase in the number of head and traumatic brain injuries.
Statistics have it that one or more people die in motorcycle crashes in the country every day. There were 366 recorded deaths last year, the lowest number in the last ten years. In fact, data from Traffic Police Department shows that over 8,000 people died from motorcycle crashes in the last decade, an average of 800 deaths a year, with 35,231 others seriously injured.
The data, compiled between 2009 and 2018, shows a negative impact of the newly adopted mode of commercial transport, with 8,004 fatalities recorded during that period. While there has been a notable decrease in the rate of crashes, resultant deaths and injuries, the number of people killed or injured in the motorcycle accidents remains alarmingly high.
Road accidents are largely as a result of lack of basic knowledge of traffic laws and blatant disregard of law and order. Speaking in Dodoma recently, Members of Parliament issued a call to relevant authorities to ensure that motorcycle riders abide by traffic rules and regulations for their own safety and that of their passengers and other road users.
They expressed concerns that despite the fact that traffic officers are often deployed on the country’s roads to enforce traffic rules, their attempts to instill driving discipline among the motorbike riders have been futile. The lawmakers suggested that the politicization of traffic rules enforcement was not helping the situation and called for tougher penalties to tame unruly bodaboda riders, insisting deterrent measures will help curb the menace.
Commenting on the status of road safety in the country during a three-day workshop for legislators on sustainable transport organised by Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (Tawla), the lawmakers were vividly concerned over unruly behavior by commercial motorcyclists, who are increasingly mushrooming across the country.
They implored fellow politicians not to interfere with enforcement of traffic laws when the police rein in errant motorcycle riders, whom they accused of causing a chunky of fatal road crashes.
Lupa legislator, Victor Mwambalaswa said that despite the worrying trend of deadly crashes involving bodabodas, some utterances from political leaders were not helping in reducing road crashes as they appeared to condone violation of traffic regulations by the riders.
“Many crashes are caused by errant motorcyclists, and there are perceptions that they are backed by politicians. This should end if we want to curb these accidents. Everyone, including the bodaboda riders should adhere to traffic rules,” said Mwambalaswa, who has been the MP for Lupa since 2005.
“Some of these riders wear earphones and listen to music as they ride on highways, it makes them lose concentration and that can lead to crashes,” he said. Hawa Mwaipunga (Special Seats, Tabora) was concerned with the way riders carelessly operate their motorcycles, which jeopardized their safety as well as that of other road users.
“Unfortunately the riders, their passengers and other road users are at great risk, and if any bodaboda is hit by a car, they mob attack the driver of the vehicle even if their fellow rider was at fault,” said Mwaipunga. The lawmaker on the other hand questioned the way the Road Safety Week was being marked, saying the commemoration should be more than trading stickers.
“The week is apparently meaningless. The organisers should come up with solid interventions on how to improve road safety, including provision of relevant education on road use among different road users,” she added.
On the other hand, Mlalo MP, Rashid Shangazi said that most motorcycle crashes were caused by reckless or negligent riding and called for tighter enforcement of existing road traffic laws to raise compliance level. He urged Tanzania to borrow a leaf from Rwanda, which he said had succeeded in regulating motorcycle business, with Rwandese riders voluntarily observing traffic rules and regulations.
“In Rwanda, only one dealer has been sanctioned to sell motorcycles and their spare parts, the riders must register their motorcycles and helmets, which bear similar registration numbers, that increases compliance level because it becomes easy for police to trace and arrest a motorcyclist whenever he violates traffic rules,” he said.
The legislator for Iringa Urban, Peter Msigwa implored traffic police officers to embrace professionalism and enforce traffic rules and regulations without fear or favour. He said Traffic police must be independent from interference in carrying out their tasks.
“Whoever is shielding bodaboda riders from legal measures for traffic offences should have a second thought. We should care about their safety and never condone any breach of traffic rules by these riders,” said Msigwa.
Lupembe lawmaker, Joram Ismael Hongoli said the government should also regulate the importation of motorcycles, revealing that in Rwanda only one company has been given the license to import motorcycles.
The Head of Traffic Police Legal Department, Superintendent of Police, Deus Sokoni admitted that motorcyclists were posing a huge challenge to road safety efforts and pleaded for political support to cure the problem. He said the reduction of motorcycle crashes should focus on the holistic safety improvement strategies constituting the three 'Es' of highway safety, namely, engineering, education, and enforcement.
Tawla Executive Director, Tike Mwambipile, on the other hand, briefed the MPs on measures taken by the Coalition Advocating for Improved Road Safety Legal and Policy reforms in the country with a view to curb traffic crashes.
She said that for the past three years, the CSOs have been pushing for the amendment of the outdated Road Traffic Act of 1973 and urged the parliamentarians to support it once the bill for amendment is tabled in the House.
She said the proposed amendments considered six risk factors, which are responsible for crashes and serious injuries. These are speed, drunk-driving, seatbelt use, helmet use, child restraints and the use of mobile phones and other gadgets by drivers.
She said the RTA has particularly proved not sufficient in addressing both the primary and secondary risk factors. “The law should adopt the international standards to address drink driving, speed limit, child restraints, seat belts and use of helmets,” she said.
Hawa Ghasia, MP for Mtwara Rural, underscored the need of presenting the bill in parliament at the earliest and pleaded with the government to finalize it before the year ends.