Passengers should take responsibility of their safety on the road by calling to order reckless drivers, experts have said.
“Traffic police phone numbers should be displayed inside buses so that passengers can alert the police when they feel their safety is being compromised,” Kevin Ganza, of the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, said.
This follows increasing cases of road accidents in the country, most of which are attributed to speeding.
Indeed preliminary reports on the cause of the July 22 accident on Kigali-Kagitumba highway in Kizuguro, Gatsibo District that killed 15 people and injured 24 others, point to speeding that left both drivers unable to control their vehicles.
“We (passengers) also have a duty to alert the police whenever we feel our lives are at risk as a result of speeding,” says a lady who preferred to be identified only as Solange.
She is irked by some passengers who she says encourage drivers to speed, claiming they are late for appointments.
This appeared to be the case in Huye District on Sunday when a couple heading to their wedding sustained injuries after their driver attempted to overtake an equally fast-moving vehicle and ended up veering off the road to avoid a head on collision with an on-coming bus.
Between January and June this year, there were 1,324 road accidents in the country, according to official figures.
Although the figure is high, it was actually a 43.8 per cent reduction from 2,356 cases reported during the same period in the previous year.
The road accidents claimed 97 lives, down from 141 in the previous year.
MP Connie Bwiza said some of these deaths can be avoided if the public held drivers accountable. She said lack of awareness about their rights is partly the reason users of public passenger service vehicles have “no say about what is being done to them.”
Lamuel Rugambwa, a resident of Kimironko, Gasabo, agrees. He says commuters tend to fear speaking out against speeding.
“I have witnessed situations where drivers take offence whenener they are told to reduce on the speed,” Rugambwa says.
Rugambwa urges the public to make use of telephone contacts at the back of buses to tip off traffic police by an instant message. The problem, he says, is that some passengers have come to the defence of errant drivers whenever the latter have been pulled over by police.
Professionalism of the drivers has also come under scrutiny. Amin Miramago, a Ministry of Finance official, says most drivers of public transport vehicles need training in road safety code, etiquette, customer care, communication and first aid.
“There is need to establish a professional association of drivers which can issue a practicing certificate and members should undergo continuous assessment,” Miramago says.
“The current state of affairs is such that when a driver does a professional mistake, he just gets jailed for a couple of weeks, then gets fired but after a few days, he gets a job elsewhere.”
Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, a Member of Parliament, agrees that there is need for rigorous training for public transporters. She suggests that for a person to qualify as a driver of a public service vehicle, they should have a minimum level of education and training.
Charles Ngarambe, Chairperson of public transporters’ association – Association des Transporteurs des Personnes au Rwanda (ATPR) says they have embarked on raising awareness, especially after the Gatsibo tragedy.
“Speeding is a serious concern, for example the Gatsibo incident could have been avoided. We are working on awareness by drivers to understand their responsibility – safety of their passengers,” Ngarambe said.
He said the association is looking at ways of training drivers, but the biggest challenge is mindset.
“We have cautioned ourselves on the issue of time at work as these people also need time to rest. We are educating them about their rights too. If one is tired, they must rest,” Ngarambe added.
Discussions have also started with Rura, the regulatory body, on how licenses of traffic offenders can be revoked, to serve as a stern warning, and mitigating factor.
“We still need collaboration from the passengers. We have our numbers on these vehicles and are going to put more. People should, besides reporting errant drivers, desist from urging drivers to go beyond the speed limit,” Ngarambe said.
Traffic police spokesperson Supt. Jean Marie Vianney Ndushabandi said the Force has appropriate driver testing mechanisms but the problem lies with drivers who do not understand the importance and seriousness of their profession.
He encouraged the public to always send text messages to or call 0788311114 to report reckless driving.
Police last week issued a directive requiring public transport buses and heavy trucks to install speed governors. This was part of broader measures announced after a crisis meeting called to review road safety measures.
Other measures include imposing severe penalties against defiant drivers and setting up of a taskforce to review and monitor road safety measures. If caught, careless drivers now risk having their licenses cancelled.
According to Police, other main causes of road accidents include recklessness, using telephones while driving and drink driving.
Speaking to this paper last week, some drivers blamed their colleagues for failing to realise that speed kills.
“The black spots aside there is a speed problem and if we do not enforce speed limits, police efforts to curb accidents on our roads will be futile,” said David Mpira, a businessman in Kigali with eight years of driving experience.