The Highest Price of Life on the Road

It has been one week since the Ethiopian New Year was celebrated. The holiday festivity and gatherings were warm in so many homes, until the sad news of the unfortunate death of Sebele Teferra, who played the famous character of Tirfe in the Betoch TV series on national TV, was broadcast on Saturday at 8:00pm. She was victim of a fatal car accident. According to police reports, the week in the capital further saw two more car accidents killing three people.

Four partially smashed automobiles including the car Seble was killed in were parked in and outside the compound of the Addis Abeba Police Commission.

“Is it only Seble’s death that grabs your attention, but there is more to the issue. Look what happened after her death; an enormous amount property is being destroyed,” said Inspector Thomas Eshetu, showing traffic accident in a period of one week. The data show that hundreds of people die in this manner throughout the year.

Last year, around 418 people died last year in traffic accidents in Addis Abeba and property damage was valued at 194 million Br. A total of 17,052 vehicle accidents caused this damage and loss of life.

The situation has worsened since 2013/2014, when the number of accidents was 14,921, showing a dramatic increase from the 9,150 accidents only two years earlier, when 390 people died.

Around 1,676 people faced serious injuries in 2014/2015, increasing from 1,454 people in 2013/2014 while the number was 1,190 people in 2012/2013. These injuries all occurred in traffic accidents in Addis Abeba.

The International Road Federation (IRF), non–profit, non-governmental organisation established to promote development of safe roads, held  an international conference on Africa’s Road Safety Challenges at the African Union hall on March 11 and 12, 2015. During the conference Workeneh Gebyehu, minister of Transport announced that around 500 million Br in property damage occurred each year country-wide with 3,000 people dying every year from road accidents.

According to the recent World Health Organization’s (WHO) measurement of traffic accidents which is death per 100,000 trucks, Ethiopia’s rate of accidents is among the highest in the world. Countries with good records include those with death rates of 10 or less per 100,000 vehicles. Currently in Ethiopia the rate has reached above 3,874.3 deaths per 100,000 trucks. About 80pc of these deaths are attributed to drivers’ faults and the remaining due to road construction, maintenance and technical problems of the vehicles, according to Workneh’s speech at the meeting.

“It is certain that the accident rate is increasing each year and it is high as compared with other countries even though there is no clear indicator showing its proportion with the increasing number of cars, growing population and how the accidents are occurring. Yet the drivers’ fault takes the lion’s share in the rate of accidents,” Assistant Inspector Assefa Mezgebu, public relations expert of Addis Abeba Traffic Office indicated.

Leading causal factors include drinking and driving, non-compliance with traffic rules, and speeding. Pedestrians also have a role to play in the equation.  Non-observance of zebra crossings and walking on the main road, while sidewalks are available, among the main problems with pedestrians. Seble Tefera was not wearing a seat belt when she died. Not wearing seat belts is common as the law requires only drivers to do so.

Assefa Mezgebu shared another trend his office has deducted from longue durée (historical trends) data, noting that number of accidents was higher during day time, but their gravity was higher during the night.

Other contributors to traffic accidents such as technical problems of vehicles and road quality were indicated to be insignificant in causing accidents with most of the road accidents happening on the highways. During the last fiscal year, around five million Birr damage had occurred to the properties of Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA) with more than half of the damage happening on the highways.

The majority of the damage to road property happens during the night time particularly on highways, according to Asmelash Kidanemaryam, team leader of Road Property Protection Directorate at AACRA.

Bizuneh Tsegaye is a driver and owner of an auto-garage at Gedam Sefer around Piazza. As a driver with long experience in the automotive sector, he shares the conclusion the authorities have reached. He thinks drivers’ lack of capacity is the number one factor among the other common causes.

“When we ask our customers who come to our auto-garage to repair dents or other major damages on their cars, technical problems with the vehicles is rarely the cause,” he reflects.

Bizuneh sees a big problem with the issuance of driver’s licences, especially with the issuance of higher grade driver’s licences issued to new drivers. The old way, where licences for heavier vehicles were progressively issued was better, he argued. Aklilu Lema, a driver and auto-garage owner at Afencho Ber, shared the same opinion.

With less contribution of the road quality, the increasing rate of accidents is mainly attributable to the drivers’ lack of self control and negligence, Aklilu said.

But the damage that is increasing at an alarming rate is helping these garage owners to make more money from maintenance.

An average of two cars involved in accidents come Bizuneh’s garage every week; he could make at least 3,000 Br profit from each. Spare parts costs could go as high as 20,000 Br to 50,000 Br for each car that comes for repair. Aklilu could receive upto three cars every week, and he could make a profit of 5,000 Br from each repair. The greater the damage, the more money to be earned, he said.

Nevertheless the increasing rate of traffic accidents is compromising the profit insurance companies could hope for. The higher the accident rate the more they have to pay for claims. In the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation (EIC), the giant in the sector, vehicle insurance is one of its 60 insurance products, and it accounts for 40pc of its total premiums. During the last fiscal year the company obtained 827 million Br from premium payments. However 678.3 million Br was paid as claim. From this paid claims, those paid for vehicle insurance takes 70pc.

“Even though there is no loss in the margin as the company compensates its costs from the premiums collected from other insurance products, the rate of traffic accidents is really costing the sector. Our profits could have hit the 10 digits had it not been for the rising number of accidents and associated expenses,” said Fikru Tsegaye, director of Marketing & Strategic management of EIC said, adding that there are also accident prone and fraudulent insurance customers with repetitive traffic accidents who reduce the profitability of the company.

To reduce the traffic accident rate which is affecting their profits negatively, EIC is working at safety activities by giving traffic training to its customers, as what to do before and after the accident, by sponsoring events organised by the traffic office on awareness creation and financing traffic police items including signposts, said  Fikru.

Once a traffic accident occurs, the insurance companies cover the cost of repairs for the trucks either in the form of money for those which are totally smashed and by hiring auto-garage to repair the vehicles through bidding. EIC has more than 100 auto-garages on its approved garage list. The auto-garages are selected based on their capacity, workshop, expertise and other standards.

To reduce the increasing rate of traffic accidents, Assefa commented that awareness should be created on road use and ethics adding that in the next fiscal year the traffic office will target strengthening the enforcement of traffic rules by using stringent punitive measures.






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