Ethiopians have a saying which, when roughly translated means ‘you know only you are leaving but no one knows your return.’ This is what many say and the country’s current traffic accidents that are becoming more destructive and horrifying as time goes on, give it unwelcome credence.
The accident that occurred in Addis Abeba on July 31, 2014 at a place called Kolfe 18 Mazoria is unforgettable to many who have heard it. The female and male road side vegetable vendors and cooks locally known as Gulit were sitting and standing by their stalls putting out their onions, tomatoes, potatoes, sugarcane and the like. Some even had their children by their side as they waited for their customers, when a truck with a trailer suddenly lost control and came from one side of the asphalt clearing all that stood in its path. That tragic accident killed 26 people on the spot among which 16 were females that support their families with the small income they gained from their vending, and 44 were injured.
Nothing could have made the community mourn more than when their colleagues were snatched from their sides within seconds.
Another incident on the newly inaugurated Addis-Adama expressway gave testimony to the rampant accidents in the city. It was early in the morning of Sunday, January 18, 2015 that eleven were left dead and nine injured. These kinds of accidents always take the lives of many in the city and also in other parts of the country.
Gezu Sira has been a driver for the past 15 years and now he has the fourth level driver’s licence and drives a heavy truck. Gezu knows everything about driving but can testify that knowledge alone cannot save one’s life if there is an accident.
“One has to be cautious in driving, be it for a long distance or short distance as it only takes a matter of seconds to lose one’s life or part of one’s body,” said Gezu.
Gezu has survived collisions and falling accidents in his career. Fortunately, these have not resulted in any loss of life or serious injury either to him or others.
“Nowadays everyone needs to be careful as things are becoming quicker and quicker, taking lives the same way,” stressed Gezu.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report, published in April 2014, traffic accidents in Ethiopia account for the deaths of 37.28 persons per 100,000. This is 2.77pc of the total deaths in the country, placing Ethiopia 12th in the world.
Kenya’s death rate from traffic accidents according to the same report stands at 19 persons per 100,000, whereas it is only two persons per 100,000 die from road accidents in England.
As a result, one of the goals of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which ends in 2015, was to reduce the number of fatalities from traffic accidents by 80pc.
Growing concern about traffic accidents is forcing some in the transportation sector to focus on accident avoiding techniques of driving, called defensive driving, and post-accident insurance mechanisms. One such institutional mechanism is carried out by the Ethiopian Heavy Truck Drivers Association (EHTDA) that trains its members and motivates them to have life insurance coverage.
Kassahun Gizaw, General Manager of the Association told Fortune. “We give defensive driving training to our members, and we advise all of our members to have life insurance coverage that will be support for families that mostly are left helpless after the drivers die.”
The Association, which has around 4,000 active members has trained 1,000 of them in defensive driving techniques and 200 of the members have received life insurance coverage. The Association has been covering the entire cost of the training, calculated at 300 Br per person for three days. However, they are constrained because of lack of financial capacity, said the manager. The members pay 1,000 Br annually for the membership fee and 200 Br for the life insurance, which is a very small sum compared to their income according to Kassahun.
Gezu believes that the change in the licensing of drivers from the previous generalised issuance to specific and short time issuance of the licences has contributed to the high incidence of traffic accidents. His view is shared by the EHTDA’s Kassahun who believes that the change from the previous system has made very young and inexperienced people grab the wheels of heavy vehicles which used to take up to six years to qualify for in the previous system.
“Previously a driver had to go through different stages of qualification and experience in order to obtain the fourth and fifth level driving licence but it is now possible to access these licences within six months,” he said.
The previous driver’s licence issuance, which had been in effect until 2008, had required the drivers to pass through different stages. A driver was required to take a second stage licence and it took at least one year to reach the third. Having a minimum of one year between the different stages of licences, one needed to wait five to six months to access the fifth stage licence required for driving trucks and trailers.
“This is made in order to bring specialisation and professionalism in one field,” said Hagerie Hailu, Traffic Management & Road Safety Case Team acting leader at Addis Abeba Transport Bureau (AATB).
Data from the Bureau indicates that 90pc of the accidents occurring in the city can be blamed on faulty driving. Pedestrians can be held responsible for four percent of the accidents, with other factors including road usage problems, weather conditions and the vehicles’ technical standard.
“But the data on accidents indicate that most of them occur on straight and suitable roads as well as in good weather conditions,” points Hagerie.
Looking at the growing trend of accidents in the city, the management of TOTAL Ethiopia has supplied 10 primary schools with boxes of materials for traffic safety education. The materials, which include books, traffic signs and lights, road safety rules, were bought by TOTAL with a 100,000 Br grant from Child Fund Ethiopia.
Another major reason that is commonly raised in relation to the causes of traffic accidents is the quality of training schools.
“The mode of training needs to be re-evaluated,” says Kassahun. “Training is given on even ground, then the drivers come and drive in the cities; some drivers even do not know the behaviour of the vehicles they drive.”
Although he does not deny that there are gaps at the training schools, Hagerie says that the Bureau follows up to see the impact of the training and the proper usage of the curriculum that the Bureau prepared.
“We give support like the distribution of CDs, brochures, and films in order to make the drivers know more about what they face in the real world,” Hagerie explained to Fortune.
Gebrehiwot Berhe is the owner, manager and trainer at Kertina Drivers’ Training School. His school has been in business since November 2005, after he left a job with the AATB. His school gives 13 days of theoretical training and 30 hours of practical training for those who want to drive automobiles and 15 days of theory and 35 hours of practice for dry goods truck drivers.
We do not have lessons specifically for road safety but it is included in the ethical training of the drivers, which includes the causes of traffic accidents, ways of avoiding accidents, and obeying the laws of traffic signs and lights, Gebrehiwot said.
When testing their students, a score of 70pc is considered a pass and they tell the students that the pass mark on the actual licence test is 74pc. They also give corrections on the wrongly answered questions.
For the training, the school charges 605 Br including turnover tax (TOT) and a rental cost for the vehicles that is 110 Br an hour for any kind of vehicle.
Although control of the training schools and other preventive measures is said to be strengthened, the accidents occurring in the city are increasing.
As data from the Addis Abeba Police Commission (AAPC) indicate, during the year 2013/14, there were 391 deaths, 1,484 heavy injuries and 1,128 light injuries incurred. The data on the age of the drivers that cause the fatalities show that three fatal accidents were caused by drivers under 18, 172 deaths by drivers between 18 and 30, 137 deaths by drivers between 31 and 50 and 51 deaths by drivers over the age of 51. Male drivers caused 361 of the deadly accidents, with female drivers being responsible for two while 28 are unidentified.
In the year 2012/13, 367 deaths, 1,336 heavy injuries and 1,263 light injuries were caused by accidents on the road. In the year 2011/12, there were 369 deaths, 1,190 heavy injuries and 820 light injuries occurred. In the year 2010/11, 332 deaths, 904 heavy injuries and 831 simple injuries occurred.
The number of accidents in the city is increasing from 2,067 in 2010/11 to 2,379 in 2011/12 then to 2,966 in 2012/13, to 3,003 in 2013/14. And in the half year of 2014/15, the road fatalities totalled 224.
In order to tackle traffic accidents and minimise fatalities, the AATB in collaboration with the city administration, is to start mobile traffic monitoring, which will allow the authorities to spot check problems and solve then. The Traffic Management Agency, which was previously under the AATB, is now being established to facilitate the control system of traffic flow.
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