As road accidents continue to claim thousands of lives, permanently disabling thousands more, there is a grave concern that mushrooming substandard motor driving schools are the root cause of the road carnage. With about 80 per cent of road accidents, which last year alone claimed 3,500 lives, blamed on unqualified drivers, road safety experts are calling for a review of the current mechanism for enforcement of rules for regulating and licensing driving schools to save lives of road users. A survey by The Citizen on Saturday has established that many of these schools operate without meeting the bare minimum requirements for registration. Proprietors are blamed for compromising rules and ethics of training to enroll learners for a good pay. Most of the 162 registered schools do not even meet compulsory requirements, such as using professional driving instructors approved by the National Institute of Transport (NIT) to train learners. More worrying is the fact that while the number of schools has reached 160, officials of NIT, the only institution training driving instructors, admit that they have so far trained only 20 instructors for learning schools since the course was established. If this were anything to go by, it would mean that over 80 per cent of 'instructors' teaching people driving skills are either incompetent or unqualified, and should therefore not be in business at all. "Generally, there are serious shortfalls in the area of drivers' training. There is, in fact, very minimal supervision and monitoring of driving schools from the point of registration," says the NIT acting principal, Mr Elifadhili Mgonja. According to him, operations of some of these schools only depend on the attitude of their owners. "Practically, there is no emphasis on the requirement to make use of qualified instructors," he adds. But the Association of Private Driving Schools (Chashubuta) has defended its members. It says there is no statistical backing to show that drivers manning buses were products of driving schools. The association's secretary, Mr Robert Mkolla, follows this stance with more shocking confession. He says in an interview with The Citizen on Saturday: "Never link the number of road accidents to driving schools. The number of drivers who have passed through our hands is very small compared to the number of drivers on the roads." He insists that so many people in the past were licensed to drive without attending driving schools. "Just randomly pick five drivers and ask them where they trained and you will be shocked; may be one or two at most have gone to driving schools," Mr Mkulla says. He instead challenges the government to force all drivers to undergo mandatory training at the schools before they are allowed to drive again. But our own survey has found that most of the schools, apart from not having roadworthy vehicles, also do not have suitable personnel and premises for imparting motor driving skills. They lack necessary training facilities and learners hardly get time to learn the ropes. Simple things like pre-trip check-up are rarely considered. Most of the vehicles used lack equipment, such as dual controls, to impart effective skills and proper instructions. This requirement is mandatory, according to the syllabus on driving. More inquiries reveal that nearly all driving schools do not have grounds to train and test candidates as stipulated. Instead, they use service roads and other public grounds that are unsuitable for the purpose. Transport experts say this state of affairs denies learner drivers the opportunity to be tested in real life situations. Testing grounds are usually designed to ensure that drivers achieve at least a minimum standard of competence before being allowed unrestricted access to public roads. "Our road transportation sector is not operating professionally, and this problem is compounded by the mushrooming of backyard driving schools," Mr Mgonja says. On average ten people die in road accidents every day. "This figure is quite shocking as there are countries with over 40 million vehicles but their road fatality rate is by far minimal compared to that of Tanzania which has less than a million registered motor vehicles," he observes. To mitigate the problem, Mr Mgonja says NIT has identified several driving schools in regions that it works with to conduct drivers' training programmes. It is hoped that this intervention will in the long run help reduce fatalities. Other authorities, like the police and traffic inspectors, however, must also play their part. "Being a driver is more than being a medical doctor. An error by a doctor normally costs one life, but an error by a driver can claim several lives in a swoop. It is a noble profession, but has become too simplified to the extent that drivers no longer recognize their noble role," Mr Mgonja says. NIT's head of research, consultancy and publication department, Mr Ali Mkunza, says a lot needs to be done in the driving sector to save the public from the road carnage. "A toll of 3,600 deaths annually means lack of expertise in driving. Many schools are ill-equipped and neither have professional instructors nor enough manpower," Mr Mkunza laments. He wants authorities to investigate the schools and take stringent action against those failing to adhere to standards. "I think over 80 per cent do not qualify for registration," he says. Driving schools are registered by the ministry of Home Affairs through the Traffic Police department. The department's head, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Mohamed Mpinga, whose office is responsible for registration of the schools, defends his performance. He says routine inspections of the schools were being carried out and many sub-standard ones were closed. "I admit that some of these schools do not meet standards, but we have always been vigilant and suspended their operations," he confirms. Police records show that a total of 54 driving schools out of 162 were suspended last year for not meeting standards. The director of Road Safety and Environment in the Ministry of Works, Mr Madeni Kipande, says all the standards and specifications for operating driving schools were in place, but there was a lack of inspection and supervision to make sure they adhere to the law. "Instructors' syllabus and driving manual are there, but I must admit that there is lack of enforcement mechanism of the rules and regulations governing the conduct of driving schools," Mr Kipande says. There has also been speculation that enforcement of standards for driving schools has proved difficult because many of them are, reportedly, owned by retired traffic police officers.