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#DispatchesDNLee: Tanzania from A to Z – Driving in Tanzania

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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D is for Driving.

Driving in Tanzania was its own challenge.  For my perspective (American) everything was completely different.  They drive on the left side of the road (European-style). With little exception, there are only two lanes – on the highway, in the city, everywhere. The lanes are narrow, sometimes there is a median but often there isn’t one. Sometimes the painted line is visible.  That alone makes driving/riding along the road quite an experience. You share the road with everyone – big trucks, motor coaches, trucks, cars, bicycles, motorbikes, cargo motorbikes, cargo bicycles, hand bikes, pedestrians, hand-pulled carts, cattle, goats, everything and everyone!

Street Traffic in Morogoro

The driver’s side is the right side of the car. Although I can drive a standard gear (stick shift) vehicle, I was apprehensive about doing it with my left hand. Is it a mirror of the gears and foot pedals? No, it isn’t! The foot pedals and gear positions are the same. I only had to get use to using my left hand to do all the hard work.

Me, next to my truck

However, the signal and windshield levers are reversed, so I was constantly wiping my windows when I intended to signal turns.

Oh, and turning signals work differently here.  In addition to signaling when one wants to pass or turn at an intersection, drivers also communicate to each other if it is safe to pass.  Because there are only two lanes, passing (on the  right) means possibly encountering head on traffic.  You may not be able to see the road ahead, so if it isn’t safe to pass, the driver in front of you flashes the right turn signal. This means there is oncoming traffic.  When it is clear, they flash the left signal. Flashing the right signal also serves to communicate to oncoming traffic what your vehicle’s width is.  As I said before lanes are very narrow.  Many vehicles have broken head lamps so that isn’t always the best indicator of the size and width of an oncoming vehicle, especially at night. I’ve approached and passed too many big trucks or passenger vehicles with one dim headlight and no brake lights!! That’s a scary thing at 100+ kilometers per hour.

It is for that reason that I don’t like to drive at night.  I might make short runs in Morogoro, but driving on the highway…No ma’am! I’m always planning my trips so that arrive by 7 pm (when the sun goes down).  Traffic accidents here are very common and they always look bad. (Report of Tanzania Road Safety) There’s no roadside assistance here – for your vehicle or you. Fatalities are common.

An over turn tanker on Tanzanian road I encountered on my first day in Tanzania

On a trip to Dar Es Salaam one weekend I saw a wrecked truck on the side of the road. On the return trip it was still there. Why? The only way to move it is to get enough people to lift and push that thing off of the road. Yes, people! Sure they would use animals, large planks for leverage and other vehicles to help, but by and large that’s all manpower/elbow grease. There are no heavy-duty tow trucks here. They could certainly use them.

Tanzania is a relatively safe country, but the roads are not. So anyone out there interested in really building Africa, I recommend contributing to road infrastructure and support – wider roads, safety barriers, street lights, and wreckage support. I’ll give all of my support for that!

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. gossminn22 6:51 am 06/9/2013

    Nice post! However, I would like to point out that driving on the left side of the road is not European-style; it’s UK-style. In all of continental Europe, we drive on the right side, just like in America!

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  2. 2. Bora Zivkovic 5:39 pm 06/9/2013

    Facinating how conventions arise in societies as they need them – the turning lights as indicators of different things, dependent on the context!

    And yes, we all in Europe always thought Brits are weird for driving on the left – I’d never try driving in the UK! ;-)

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