OUR nation has lately witnessed a surge in the number of motorcycles used as a cheaper and faster means of human transportation in heavy traffic cities like Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and others. The motorcycles are everywhere - in the central business districts and outskirts of these cities. We truly are reducing the double problem of transport and traffic jams marring the prevailing situation. But, unfortunately we’re also creating a more fatal problem in the process.
I am one person who values life and quality of life. A friend of mine who knows my deep love and respect for human life called me last week and told me to watch a local TV programme showing the increased number of emergency cases at the Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute (MOI).
According to the programme, there are five new motorcycle related causalities every single day at MOI, ranging from minor to highly intensive cases. Some of these cases end up in amputation, after which people are left with no legs or hands and sometimes both hands and legs. Regrettably, we’ve also lost a number of lives through motorcycle accidents. By that figure clearly registered in my mind that there are normally 35 causalities every week, which will at the end of this year bring us to the neighbourhood of 1,820 cases of people turning from physical fitness to handicap. That’s too much a price to pay for an escapable cause as large chunk of the labour force is turned into handicaps and we end up having more street beggars whom we don’t care about.
Facts and research findings from other countries indicate that motorcycles have three to four times higher possibilities of being involved in fatal crashes than motor vehicles. Motorcycles also have 16 times higher rates of serious injuries than automobiles. Motorcycle riders occupy a special position on roads. They enjoy the freedom of movement and maneuver only possible with their form of transportation; but these riders are also very prone to dangers not met by other road users like automobile drivers and other motorists. The lack of good protective barriers between a motorcycle and the road, as well as the difficulty with which other motorists may anticipate and see a motorcycle, leave riders prone to serious injuries in the event of an accident.
Unfortunately, this, like many other social and economic problems, affect the lowest part of the economic strata. This one, particularly affecting young people in the very tender age of between 16 to 25 years. As I watched the programme, I remembered with great dismay a good number of our fellow citizens whose body parts and even lives were lost in the era of ‘chai-maharage’ when some pick-up trucks were turned into passenger vehicles back in the 1990s. I know people who have permanent disabilities today from ‘chai-maharage’ accidents.
We now have ‘pikipikis’ in towns. But the operators of these tuku-tukus are not even trained and do not possess good skills to operate the cycles. Some of these people are those taken from villages and straight behind the wheels of these killing machines on our roads. This is like pushing someone, with no clue of swimming, into the Indian Ocean to bring us fish to eat. These people come for a good cause to try their luck in the new people-ferrying industry, but have very limited skills. And, they are normally engaged by people who can afford to purchase motorcycles and demand a good daily income from the poor boys who will then have to ride all around the cities for longer hours, waking-up at 5 am and finishing anywhere between midnight and early morning, to meet the highly set expectation of the owners.
Businesses in this nation are run like fashion. This has become a norm. Motor-cycles are in fashion and are making good income. Unfortunately again, this is a costly and tragic fashion trend unless someone intervenes to regulate the operation of these cycles.
In an effort to make higher daily income, most of these young men deliberately neglect and violate traffic rules. They even compromise their safety by deliberately riding the bikes without helmets. One takes a helmet and hangs it on the motor-cycle while riding. Even those who use the helmets and other safety gears will still have their passengers completely unprotected. There is a new vocabulary in the motor-cycle business; and that is ‘mishikaki’, which means two or more passengers and the operator are on the motorbike. Only the operator will be having the helmet while his passengers will be having no helmets. And in case anything happens, who knows the fate of these people whose identity then is ‘mishikaki!’
Another scary thought is when I see people carrying little kids on their bikes. I’m not sure what the law says about riding with kids less than 10 years of age; but in any case these children are not capable of taking good care of themselves on top of the bikes. It is dangerous! And it is tragic.
The motorcycles almost always miss important things like side mirrors, good brakes and tyres. Of greater consequence is riding these motorcycles without even properly learning how to operate them and above all without a driver’s license.
I would suggest that authorities intervene before the situation becomes more alarming. I suggest a quick and closer measure against carelessness of motorcycle operators. I think the operators of motorcycles should also have some kind of an organization to help them with an understanding of rights and traffic rules.