KIGALI - THE Minister of Infrastructure, Vincent Karega, has revealed that his ministry has submitted a proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office that could see major changes to traffic guidelines.
Speaking to The New Times last week, Karega said that the proposal contains three options from which the cabinet will choose the most suitable system.
“There is no need for any excitement and speculation; it is still a proposal with three options from which the cabinet will choose,” he said.
He dismissed as unfounded rumours that a decision had already been taken for the country to shift from driving on the right hand side to the left.
“It has been misreported that we are going to change to the left-hand drive system; this is not true because the Government has not decided anything yet. The cabinet will extensively discuss the three options and choose the one that is most appropriate,” he explained.
He said one option is to change from driving on the right-hand side to the left-hand side, the second is to maintain the current right-hand drive system and the ban on importation of right-hand drive vehicles; while the third proposal is to remain on the right-hand drive and lift the existing ban on right-hand vehicles.
The minister noted that each of the three options has its own financial and economic implications, which is why thorough discussions will be held before a final decision is taken.
“We conducted a study which indicates both the benefits and side effects of each of the options, and we have stated them in the proposal we submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“For example, if the cabinet chose shifting to left-hand drive, it means we have to change sign posts and many other things, but it also opens up opportunities to acquire cheaper cars and to harmonise our traffic rules with most of other EAC partner states,” said Karega.
Out of the five East African Community (EAC) partner states, only new members Rwanda and Burundi drive on the right side of the road, while motorists in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania keep on the left.
In 2005, the government banned the importation of right-hand drive cars with a plan to phase out the existing ones by the end of last year. The move was aimed at reducing the number of traffic accidents, especially those that occur when drivers attempt to overtake other cars.
As a result, cars are said to be more expensive in Rwanda compared to those in the EAC partner states, since left-hand vehicles are generally more expensive than right-hand ones.
The head of Traffic Police, Chief Superintendent Vincent Sano, told The New Times that a shift to the left-hand drive would be more costly, but hastened to add that the force was ready to enforce whatever system the cabinet will choose.
“I believe the cabinet will thoroughly discuss all the technicalities involved with any of the options before coming up with a final decision. We (Traffic Police) are always ready to adjust to any situation,” Sano said from his office.
While the news has sparked varying reactions from the public, most people are generally in support of options that will make it possible to access cheaper right-hand drive cars.
Paul Padua, proprietor of Prime Autocare Garage in Nyabugogo, was positive about a possible shift to the left traffic lane, but warned of high costs involved.
“A change to the left-hand drive system will come with massive changes in the entire traffic set up, and this will likely result in people changing steering wheels to the right hand side, which is technically risky. It will also take some time before we get rid of left wheel steering cars from the roads,” he said.
“Because of the existing system, we have been buying expensive left-hand steering cars from Europe, and therefore a change will enable more people to own cars because they will be less expensive. At the moment it is easier for citizens in most of the other regional countries to buy cars, in contrast to Rwandans”.
Many other people also believe that a shift to the left-hand drive system or a waiver on the existing ban on the importation of right-hand steering cars could effectively result in more Passenger Service Vehicles (PSV) in the country.
The study indicates that right-hand steering vehicles are between 16-49 percent cheaper than the left hand ones. For example, without taxes and duties, a left-hand steering car costs $7,337 on average, compared to an average of $5,602 of the equivalent right-hand steering vehicle.
A left-hand pick-up costs $13,279 on average, while a right hand one costs $11,021. The study also ascertained that a three-axle left-hand truck costs $59,638 while a right-hand steering one costs $49,891.
It is also reported that the restriction on the importation of right-hand vehicles contributed to increased transport fare in the country and slowed growth in the transport sector.
Rwanda also has relatively few locally registered cargo trucks, a situation partly blamed on higher transport expenses compared to most of the other EAC partner states.
Foreign cargo haulers account for over 70 percent of the total number of cargo trucks, partly because they are relatively cheaper to hire.
Internationally, 72 percent of the world’s total road distance, people drive on the right.