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Review motorcycle laws to avert tragedies

IT was just like any other day for Ayubu Mwakyusa, a motorcycle rider in boda boda business in the commercial city of Dar es Salaam city.

He woke up for his routine business, not knowing that the day would turn out to be his most unfortunate in life.

Ferrying a passenger at Manzese suburb, the tragedy struck, a car pulled out in front of him abruptly and he had no option of either dodge it or stop and imagine what transpired.

Mwakyusa recalls the terrible crash as he rammed into the windshield of the car, somersaulted and landed on the other side of the road.

“It was a very bad road crash, I was lucky but the other man wasn’t. I can say only the helmet protected me from sustaining a fatal head injury, but still I lost consciousness for three days, I suffered physical injuries, though it claimed the other person’s life,” recalls Mwakyusa from Mbeya.

Mwakyusa would eventually spend a good eight months at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam receiving treatment for a lower limb fracture and a paralysis; he had suffered during the crash in a business, where he eked out a living.

“It was a terrible experience… I couldn’t imagine being bedridden for a prolonged time, and I could do nothing, all my dreams were cut short and life has never been the same since then,” says Mwakyusa.

Like many other young people in Tanzania, Mwakyusa ventured into the mushrooming motorcycle business to earn a living.

To many, motorcycle riding is undoubtedly thrilling and adventurous but often very hazardous. The use of motorcycles has increased greatly in the country in recent years, both in urban and rural areas, and provide employment largely for young men.

Most of them hire the motorcycles on a contract to use as taxis to generate income for themselves and their owners.

Popular as bodabodas, the motorcycles often fill a gap in the provision of ‘conventional’ transport services such as minibuses and taxis, by providing direct transport to people’s homes to main roads, village centres and essential services such as hospitals and markets.

In the rural settings, motorcycles are often the most commonly found vehicles, and journeys that were previously made on foot or bicycle, taking longer hours, are now made using a motorcycle.

While the miniature size and quick speed of motorcycles make them attractive to many travellers, the ever-increasing use of motorbikes has also contributed to a significant number of accidents often resulting in serious injury and deaths.

For instance, over the past ten years 8000 people perished in road tragedies involving motorcyclists.

Over 8,000 people died from motorcycle accidents in a period of 10 years, an average of 800 deaths a year, with 35,231 others seriously injured, according to the latest data from the Traffic Police Department.

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.

Crashes, fatalities drop but the scale still worrying Police statistics released in 2019, show that bodaboda crashes decreased in the previous two years by 35 per cent, while mortality rate also dropped by 14 per cent and injuries decreased by 32 per cent.

“Despite the promising reduction of the accident and fatality rates we need to highlight the dangerous nature of this mode of transport.

Data shows that many people are killed or injured in these motorcycle crashes,” noted Traffic Chief Commander SACP Fortunatus Musilimu at the closing of a road safety training programme last year.

As per the Muhimbili Orthopaedic (MOI) Records and Statistics Unit, a number of injuries from crashes increased by 14 per cent over the last three years as victims of bodaboda crashes were alarming.

According to Records and Statistics Unit from MOI, the average number of road crash victims who report at the facility every month ranges between 690 and 912, and the average of between 23 and 30 patients received at the hospital daily.

Head injuries are the main cause of death and disability among motorcycle users, and the costs of head injuries are high because they frequently require specialised medical care or long-term rehabilitation.

Head injuries, thus, account for 46 per cent of all reported cases of motorcycle crash victims compared to 36 per cent and 18 per cent who suffered broken limbs and arms respectively, according to data obtained from MOI.

Across the country, motorcycle crashes have been a source of deaths and injuries that lead to the loss of manpower where people die and leave families helpless.

“Some remain permanently disabled and dependent whereby the government spends a lot of money on treating injuries that would otherwise be spent on other sectors of development”, clarifies Lawyer of the Police Force Traffic Department, Mr Deus Sokoni.

Road crashes are notably exacerbating the government’s burden on health and medical costs where approximately 49 per cent of injuries at the Muhimbili National Orthopaedic Institute (MOI) are victims of bodaboda crashes requiring emergency care compared to motor vehicle and other crashes which claim 27 per cent and 24 per cent respectively as reported by MOI.

According to reports, many commercial riders do not have health insurance and are more likely to have their hospital expenses paid by government medical funds.

Millions of shillings are spent on motorcycle-related deaths and injuries each year. Emergency services and loss of workforce and properties make up a large portion of the cost.

In most cases, the government and families of victims spend huge amounts in case of long-term medical care expenses.

Treating serious injuries can take a long time and often prove to be very expensive.

Why the country needs effective helmet legislation Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle and bicycle crashes, say health experts.

They warn that riders and motorcycle passengers without helmets have a greater chance of suffering serious brain injuries.

Proper use of helmets contributes 42 per cent to reducing the risk of physical injuries and 69 per cent reduces the risk of head injuries according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Wearing a helmet has also been shown to decrease the risk and severity of injuries among motorcyclists by about 70 per cent, the likelihood of death by almost 40 per cent, and to substantially reduce the costs of healthcare associated with such crashes.

For the past five years, road safety stakeholders in the country have been pushing for the amendment of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) to adequately address helmet wearing and other risk factors.

The RTA, thus, provides for the requirement of wearing helmets by motorcycle riders under section 39 (11), but is silent on passengers, who often suffer fatal injuries during crashes.

Section 39 (12) of the Road Safety Act (RTA 1973) require that: The rider of a motorcycle must wear an approved motorcycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the rider’s head, This basically means that the law only requires the riders to wear helmets, but it doesn’t make it mandatory for a motorcycle passenger to wear protective helmet.

It also prohibits any person younger than the age of 16 to ride a motor vehicle, which means that helmet laws do not cover children under 16 because they are actually not allowed to ride as passengers.

That makes it fall short of the required international standards. The Road Safety stakeholders argue that it is very crucial for the law to require bodaboda riders and passengers including children to put on helmets which are in compliance with the TBS quality assurance requirements.

Coming together under one umbrella dubbed the Coalition Advocating for Improved Road Safety Legal and Policy Environment in Tanzania, the road safety stakeholders recommend that the RTA clearly stipulate that the helmets be of a specific standard as per the specifications of the TBS.

“There should be an amendment for the law to mandate passengers to wear helmets too regardless of whether it is a commercial or non-commercial motorcycle taxi,” says Markphason Buberwa, a legal analyst with Tanzania Law Society (TLS), one of coalition members.

The law, according to the coalition’s Position Paper, 2019 Revised Version, should also provide for a mechanism to control the standards of helmets that are imported or manufactured in the country.

Evidence shows that although some of the boda boda are complying with the rules especially by putting on helmets, yet they have suffered head injuries at the time of the crash as those protective gears are of substandard.

According to Executive Officer for Helmet Vaccine Initiative Tanzania (HVIT), Mr Alpherio Nchimbi, in Tanzania, helmets are required to conform to Tanzania Bureau of Standards.

He says helmets available on markets are substandard, which put the lives of motorcycle riders at great danger.

As a result, Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) Quality Engineering Department Head, Yona Afrika, acknowledges the existence of substandard helmets on local markets.

He says the quality and standard watchdog has been working hard to Check the importation of counterfeit helmets through regular impromptu inspections; and stocks of substandard helmets are set on fire so as to ensure they don’t reach consumers.

The road safety coalition says as far as the quality and standard of helmets is concerned, it would be important for the TBS and the police force to work jointly to ensure enforcement of the standard 1478.

Key to motorcycle crashes reduction is the amendment of the Road Traffic Act.

Unfortunately, the process has taken longer meaning the motorcycle drivers and their passengers have continued to ride on the death trap.

THE Russian Centre for Science and Culture, famously ...

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Mwandishi: ADAM LUTTA

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