Ethiopia: Urgent Action Needed to Improve Road Safety –


Street vending forcing pedestrians to make use of the main road which causes road accidents

Alemitu Seifu, a young and ambitious woman, is well-known among her villagers for her business insights. She works as a road-side vendor and sells small artefacts close to the high-way around Wingate for a living. She said her instinct told her to step aside and escape a perilous traffic accident. But, she could not avoid it as it happened within seconds. She unbelievably saw a truck crushing down everything on her way while she was luckily tossed away by a push-effect of over-speeding truck. After lapse of seconds, she woke up from her hypnosis and found herself in a cul-de-sac, cornered between a fence and a wall.

The unrestrained juggernaut careened down the road with its pay load and rammed into cars that were parked on a lay-by. Over all, the truck ploughed into six cars. The cars that were in direct vortex of collusion got squashed into unrecognisable metal junk and scraps.

The accident killed three people and injured 25 others while Alemitu survived miraculously, but for the injury she sustained on her leg due to deep cut caused by a flying shard. She said she cannot forget the horrendous and gut-wrenching accident that happened last March. One of her dear friends had perished in the accident while busy selling articles on the road side.

Similarly, nine athletes had been hit by traffic accident while they were conducting rigorous physical exercises along the Addis Ababa-Sululeta corridor. Saddening as it was, the accident had claimed the life of athlete Ashagre Girma. He was aspiring to win competitions and become the pride of his country. However, his hope got thwarted in a heart-breaking accident, which had also caused deadly injury to four athletes.

Traffic problems are posing indescribable threat to pedestrians all over the world. WHO states that over 3,400 people are dying on the roads every day globally, and tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and older people are among the most victims of traffic accidents.

Similarly, the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015 indicated that the total number of road traffic deaths worldwide has been increasing by 1.25 million per year, with the highest road traffic fatality rates are registered in low-income countries. It said fatality rates in low-income countries have more than doubled those in high-income countries. And there are disproportionate number of deaths relative to these countries’ level of motorization: 90 percent of road traffic deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries, yet these countries have just 54 percent of the world’s vehicles.

Considering the magnitude of the problem and impacts of traffic accidents, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has proclaimed the period 2011-2020 as Decade of Action for Road Safety and calls on countries to implement measures identified internationally to make their roads safer.

While there has been progress towards improving road safety legislation and in making roads safer, the report shows that the pace of change is too slow. Urgent action is needed to achieve the ambitious target for road safety reflected in the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.

In the case of Ethiopia, some years ago, Newsweek magazine had published a story on the traffic accident of Ethiopia and local people labelling ISUZU vehicles as “Al-Qaida, suicide squad”. The main point is that the problem has not been alleviated yet. And Addis-Djibouti, Mojo-Hawassa and Addis-Bahir Dar high-ways are the major corridors that hoarded the most ontogeny accidents. The government said these roads are witnessing accidents regardless of their suitability to traffic flow and state-of-the-art construction.

Sources indicate that more than 3,000 individuals had lost their lives only last year. The material loss caused by traffic accident in the same year amounts to over half a billion birr which would have been used to cover some projects targeted to enhance living condition of citizens.

Similarly, over 240 people had died on the roads of Addis Ababa in one year, until last February. The property destruction is said to worth over 1.2 million birr. Some sources even depict bleaker picture than this figures. They stated that the condition of traffic accident in Addis Ababa is more gruesome than what is being heard and seen. As a testimony of this situation, insurance companies are claiming that traffic accidents and ensuing deaths are soaring with time thereby sky-rocketing insurance payments.

According to the Transport Authority, most of the accidents in Addis Ababa are being registered in Kolfe-Keranyo Sub-city compared to the least in Addis Ketema. Authority’s Public Relations Officer Dereje G/Mariam stated that most of the accidents — as much as 85 per cent or over — happening across the country are caused by incapable drivers that are driving recklessly and irresponsibly.

As he said, the reasons associated with drivers’ incapacity include lack of skill, unethical behaviour and irresponsibility (drivers who do not give way to pedestrians), reckless-driving, improper use of steering wheel and swerving blindly, drunken-driving and over-speeding. In addition, technical failures and lack of awareness of pedestrians how to use side walk and safely cross over zebra crossings are some of the problems that aggravated accidents, he said.

According to him, condition of roads is also one of the factors that aggravates accidents. For instance, the accidents being encountered on the way from Wingate to Asrasimint Mazoriya are to some extent occurring due to steep slope that abruptly conveys speeding vehicles to a roundabout and looming difficulty to control.

Contrary to the plan formulated by the Authority to reduce the amount of death caused by vehicles to 36 persons per 10,000 vehicles, death rates have scaled up to 72 persons per same number of vehicles. Hence, taking into account the number of accidents happening every day, it is unmistakable to say that the situation has gone from the frying pan in to the fire.

Triggered by the increasing number of traffic deaths, currently burning questions are being raised by people: how long will Ethiopia be dogged by the ill-news of “escalating traffic accident and fatalities!” How long will Addis Ababa become notorious hot bed of traffic accident, while its cars are few and its traffic density is meagre, compared even to Kenya? How far will the nation be laughing stock of the world regarding its surface transport, while it is an epitome of economic transformation and double-digit growth?

Seeing that traffic accidents are getting worse with time, the Authority said it is striving to reformulate tangible and far-reaching plan eyed at taking drastic measures, curbing fatalities and preventing devastation of hard-earned property.

As the nation has identified that traffic accident is a serious problem, concerted efforts should be exerted which aims to tactfully averting the destruction of lives and property. It still has set targets to scale down the amount of causalities of traffic accidents by half on 2020.

On the other hand, traffic management experts suggested that drastic measures should be taken with a view to reduce roadside fatalities and destruction of property. They stressed that the accident is victimizing all citizens across the country that are categorized as productive and working age group.

They advised that the system of issuing traffic license should be overhauled to the level it can only filter capable and ethical drivers. In addition, strict laws should be imposed to instruct defaulting and non-law abiding drivers. Use of seat-belts, prohibition of drunk-driving, enforcing speed-limit and fitting, child restraints must also be applied in an integrated manner.

As a predominant stakeholder to bring lasting solution, currently the Authority is evaluating the performance of various training colleges that are established to train drivers. Because, there are allegations that these training eight are corrupted and churning out incapable drivers without ample trainings. Accordingly, the Authority had closed unqualified training centres in Addis Ababa City Administration, Amhara and Oromia states. Some training eight in Tigray State were also given ultimatum to improve their performance before prohibition.

In light of its burden and urgency to save lives and property from destruction, the nation should undertake urgent and sustainable action to improve road safety. It is not time to be oblivious of the traffic scourge in Ethiopia as it is an everyday threat to a journey back home. So far, short-term awareness-enhancing activities and temporary campaigns have not brought the desired result. Hence, some say traffic safety education should be included in the curriculum of schools as far as grade ten and awareness-boosting activities should be undertaken in a sustainable manner.

Desperate disease needs desperate medicine. The vicious circle of vehicle-related death has been widening rampantly and it has become a must to the government and citizens to work in collaboration and come up with lasting solution.

Everyone has become familiar with the day to day macabre scene of vehicle accident. Gruesome stories emanating from these accidents are falling on deaf ears. It has been weeks since the accident that had occurred in the Wingate-Asrasimint Mazoriya locality blighted many lives. Apart from Addis Ababa city, we have also heard many saddening accidents in Bahir Dar and Debre-Birhan towns, among others — but, no immediate answer to help alleviate traffic accidents.

Having such anxiety of similar catastrophes in mind, Alemitu has continued her road-side business taking the Hobson’s choice for her existence. She said she longed to see accident-free locality, live her life at large and make her business without any frustration.

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