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Road Accidents in South Sudan: Who is to Blame? PDF Print

By Yuggu Charles

Over the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of road accidents in South Sudan with many people losing their lives and others suffering terrible injuries.

As the carnage continues across the new country, The People’s Voice sought the views of citizens about the situation and who or what they think is to blame. Most people reacted angrily to the failure by authorities and motorists to reduce road deaths.

Jale James, who works in the Customs Market in Juba, attributed the alarming increase in road accidents to careless driving. “There are too many cars on our roads and the drivers appear to love speeding. This is what is killing our people,” he said. “Many drivers are careless and cannot even do simple and routine things like indicating when they are branching or exercising care when over-taking other vehicles. They don’t even slow down when negotiating corners or round-abouts,” he added. Furthermore, most drivers are not trained and use bribes to acquire driving licenses, James asserted. To improve the situation, James wants the government to introduce tougher traffic rules and stiffer punishments for reckless drivers.

He also feels that the high number of motorcycle taxis on the roads contributed to many road accidents and wants the government to control the operation of these two-wheelers. “There are too many motorcycles being operated by youths, many of whom have not attended any driving school,” said James.

Isaac John, a businessman based in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes State, said the poor road network was among the factors that have contributed to road accidents in South Sudan. “A few months ago, two trucks carrying goods destined for Wau town, the capital city of Western Bhar El Ghazal, overturned along the Rumbek-Wau road, due to the poor state of the road,” stated John.

Garang Kong, a student at the University of Upper Nile, expressed his discomfort with the conduct of some drivers.  “I’m not happy with the way some drivers speed. Many of them are not aware of the risks and dangers on the roads. It is important to have these people re-trained on how to behave while driving and on general road safety and even first aid techniques,” he said.

“It would be good if the government adopts laws and legislation that will punish any individual who violates traffic rules because right now, the law is very lenient on these offenders,” he added.

Lupai James, a logistician at the organization for Nonviolence and Development, feels that traffic police officers may be contributing to the increase of road accidents in the country by harassing and intimidating drivers, and extorting money from them. “One time, I was driving along Ministry Juba road and one police officer ordered me to stop for the reason that I had blocked the way and I was asked to give them my license or pay 30 Sudanese Pounds. They also ordered me to surrender my car log book,” said Lupai.

He added: “When I refused, they threatened to remove my number plate. They later forced me to pay the 30 Sudanese pounds but never gave me any receipt, an indication that this money would end up in their pockets. Such frustration makes drivers cause accidents”. Although Lupai’s logic may seem a bit far-fetched, there is certainly some truth to the fact that the traffic police are part of the problem, in that if they spent less time extorting money from innocent drivers, they would have more time to keep the roads safe.

Colonel Kon John Akot, the Director of traffic police at the South Sudan Police Service, however, defended his officers and noted that it is the responsibility of citizens to avoid accidents. He said that traffic officers are entitled to put signs along the roads and bridges and at black spots to warn motorists of dangers. The police, he explained, were also allowed by the law to stop and interrogate and even arrest motorists breaking traffic rules.

He said there was a need for cooperation between the ministry of roads and transport and the traffic police in order to safeguard the lives of people. Kon urged road users to be careful while driving on highways such as the Nimule –Juba, Nadapal – Juba, Yei – Juba and Juba – Kajo Keji roads to help minimize road accidents. He added that traffic officers should be deployed along these highways to check and monitor speeding motorists.

However, he observed that lack of equipment has hindered their work. “We lack radios, Motorola, motorbikes, tents, ambulances, generators and cameras to facilitate our work effectively; that is why we sometimes have problems,” admitted the police officer.

Kon stated that South Sudan traffic rules state that drivers are by law required to drive 50 km per hour while in town and on a highway the required speed is 90 km per hour, and those flouting these rules should not complain when arrested. “They know they should not overtake at junctions, yet some still ignore these rules,” he said.

On claims that traffic police officers were harassing motorists, Kon replied: “Police officers are mandated by law to stop and inspect any vehicle and charge the driver if he flouts any traffic rules.”

Ms Lydia Anyole, a traffic police and security consultant in Juba, says that road safety requires full involvement of both road users and traffic law enforcers. “If we are to reduce the number of accidents witnessed on our roads, all road users must be properly sensitized on traffic rules and traffic officers themselves must be made to understand that their job is futile without the cooperation of road users including pedestrians,” she says.

The government, she advises, should roll out a comprehensive civic education program that would help create awareness amongst members of the society drawn from all sectors to enlighten them on basic road safety rules.