More than five thousand people have been killed by road traffic accidents in Ethiopia last year. If we consider that the number of vehicles is barely one million we can see how serious the issue is. The country faces severe challenges not only in human terms but also economically. Too many families lose their breadwinners and too many children are orphaned!
Ethiopia is troubled by several economic problems and certainly the issue of accidents puts more fuel to the fire. Cars are continuously imported and most are old. The country spends millions of dollars to buy fuel to move these vehicles. Spare parts are another source of expenditure in foreign currency. And yet the country could put the hard currency to better use. The economy is not producing as expected or hoped and if you add the issue of life losses due to road accidents, the picture becomes gloomier.
The ratio of accidents in proportion to the number of vehicles is staggering. This may be common in the less developed countries. The general culture of driving seems poor with vehicles being used until they break apart. In Ethiopia, one would just wonder seeing Italian vehicles manufactured over fifty years ago still in circulation; ‘Ardita’, ‘Trenta Quatro’ and so many others.
Five thousand deaths a year is too high a number! Most of which are avoidable. It is not that the Ethiopian road transport and traffic authorities do not know about the gravity of the case. They know about the impact on the economy and the social implications. In fact the media, the arts, music and drama are among the tools often used to sensitise the population. But one would say the fundamental problem is structural. Traffic management needs a complete overhaul.
License issuance has problems. Not all license holders pass the training and exams. Equally, checks on vehicle roadworthiness are problematic. Drivers caught contravening are often ‘pardoned’ with light fees. Driving under the influence of alcohol or light drugs is not considered scandalous. Violators get away with relative ease. Traffic authorities may not be saints but it would be unfair to attribute all the problems to their ‘weaknesses’. The roads in the country have their own shortcomings, but drivers do not seem to adapt to the situation.
Speed limits are barely adhered to despite the continuous menaces by the authorities that they are going to be harsh on violators. The strict application of regulations leaves a lot to be desired. Many say that there is a deep rooted and perennial corrupt practice in the transport and traffic sectors. Often violators get away with lenient contraventions in exchange for ‘favours’ to authorities.
With the lot of construction and other economic activities underway, there are so many heavy duty trucks on the roads transporting construction material and these are often the road pirates, the killers!
The public transport sector is becoming risky due to insufficient expertise of drivers, lack of concentration owing to exhaustion, extreme speed with old vehicles to make the most out of the vehicle. Drivers are heard alleging that owners press them to work fast as they have bank debts to settle.
The daily traffic reports on the media show no days pass without deadly accidents! This is just distressing and we are adapting to it.
During weekends, these numbers explode. The reasons are clear. Leisure could be dangerous if not administered well. Accidents also occur due to mechanical failures. Exhaustion of drivers, lack of sleep and inexperience add up to the factors.
There are lots of tales told regarding the public transport in the country, especially those who travel illegally at night to avoid checks. In certain cases, the punishments are so severe that inevitably drivers trying to avoid them would pay ‘attractive’ bribes to the traffic officials. Some say these are tempted also because their pay is not proportional to their powers and responsibilities.
The case of traffic accidents in Ethiopia is complex. There are no quick fix solutions. Indeed, it is also a question of attitude, on all sides. It is not enough to decree severe rules if not applied strictly. Vehicles’ supervision must be clean. Drivers must pass continuous tests so that only those who pass them have the right to circulate on the roads. Health checks must be routine with aged drivers needing more sustained and frequent checks. Eyesight and hearing capacity, blood pressure, diabetic condition and fitness of limbs are all factors. Renewals of licenses should be more stringent.
Above all corruption must be rooted out of traffic management because the consequences are tragic. The recent study conducted has shown that nine out of ten accidents were avoidable!
No one can deny that the authorities do know about all this and even the lay man knows about it; but it is the attitudinal or behavioral change that we lack. Maturity is required to face the challenges with determination and overcome them.
A few days ago the government announced new taxes on old cars trying to discourage their import. It said it would reduce taxes on the new ones and thus there will be less fuel expenses, spare parts procurement and less traffic accidents due to mechanical deficiency.
People have had mixed reactions on this directive but the government has argued that to protect the interests of about a million people, potential owners of cars, it cannot go against the interest of one hundred nine million others. Ethiopia needs deep reforms in many sectors. Traffic management is one of them.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.