Driving in Dar es Salaam

How many turn lanes? Locals act out one of Dar's daily rituals, the traffic jam. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

How many turn lanes? Locals act out one of Dar’s daily rituals, the traffic jam. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

They’ve been described as drivers who make mistakes in slow motion.

Unlike Kenya, where drivers will barrel over you without a second thought, here in Tanzania it seems to be cool to make bad decisions slowly.

‘Uh, ok. Imma gonna try to get past you, ok? Ok? It’s a one way street that’s already 3 lanes wide, but let’s make it 4, mmmkay? I’ll just inch out a bit more. Oh no, I think I’m getting close to your car. Is there still some room? Maybe just a bit more.’

Crunch.

If you have a dark sense of humour, you’ll find driving here hilarious.

Tanzania, a former British colony, drives on the left. If that’s a new experience for you, don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it quickly enough.

It’s stinking hot in Dar es Salaam but when you’re stuck in traffic for hours on end, you should keep your windows up, doors locked and valuables out of sight due to the risk of theft. So having a car with air-conditioning is a must here.

There are no shortage of stories about robberies at traffic lights or while stuck in traffic, most happening at dusk or later.

While driving at night can’t always be avoided, do take precautions and be aware of any suspicious people hanging around intersections.

A man engraving a side mirror on a newly imported car. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

A man engraving a side mirror on a newly imported car. If you haven’t already done so, get your windows and mirrors engraved, as it helps deter criminals. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Because of the risk of robbery at intersections, it’s common practice to run red lights at night to avoid being a sitting duck, so watch out for that.

Tanzania does not offer regular, super or premium petrol — just petrol.

An attendant will fill up for you, so do keep a close watch on the pump and make sure it was ‘zeroed’ before filling — it’s a common scam.

Some stations offer maintenance checkups as you are getting fuel, which should generally be avoided. Stick to a mechanic you trust and don’t let anyone else under the hood.

If you’re stopped by the police

If you’ve done something wrong, be a grownup and pay the fine. And don’t take to Facebook to complain about how police stopped you for not wearing your seat belt or for not having functioning headlights. It makes you look really stupid.

This is the Road Traffic Act. It is your friend. Anything you are accused of must correlate to this document. We keep a copy on our phones and use it for reference when we’re pulled over. (But seriously, don’t be a jerk about it. Being cheerful, apologetic and charming at the same time does more than demanding the officer recite the section and subsection of a charge.)

Most traffic violations in Tanzania can be resolved with ‘spot fines’ for which there must be a legal receipt.

In Dar, you should not pay cash — but be given an offence notification with instructions on how to pay via mobile money. This notification should include the infraction, officer’s ID and amount owing.

If you get into an accident, try not to get robbed or mobbed at the same time.

Traffic police officers should be wearing a white uniform but remember that any police officer or military police officer also has the right to pull you over; all are required to wear and display their identification number.

There are fake police officers out there, and you are well within your rights to ask a police officer for identification or to tell them you’d rather continue the conversation at the nearest police station with other witnesses around.

Regarding accidents

(When reading the following sentences, remember, we’re not lawyers or the police.)

If you witness an accident, it’s often best to carry on, unless you feel you’re the only one who can help. Even then, it may be wise to stay away if it looks like a crowd is gathering as, unfortunately, foreigners are easy targets when a mob forms.

It’s not uncommon for people to start stealing things (down to the victim’s clothes) from an accident scene.

If you’re in an accident, the law generally requires you to stay at an accident scene and for police to respond to the scene.

Tanzanian law does allow for accidents to be reported within 12 hours, should you not be able to report it immediately.

The primary concern in any accident is to preserve life and property.

So if the situation calls for it, take the injured person to hospital straight away, and then go to the police. (Bear in mind that until very recently, any injured party had to first fill out a police form before hospitals would administer treatment! Now they should be able to fill it out at the hospital.)

But sometimes it’s not safe to stick around, depending on the time of day, severity and if there is a potential for a mob.

If you choose to drive a motorcycle, we wish you all the best. You’re on your own. And probably insane.

If you’re on the peninsula at noon and you had a fender bender, odds are you will be safe to stick around and swap insurance details and wait for the police. (Most insurance claims will require a police report.)

However, if you’ve just run over a pedestrian in Mwenge, you should probably not stick around. You should proceed to the nearest police station to report the accident.

Do watch out for scams: people will jump in front of your car so that they can extort money from you for ‘hospital bills.’

And don’t think that going to the police station will clear it up, they’ll probably be in on it as well.

Lastly, investing in a dashboard camera (dashcam) is a good idea, as it can prove your innocence in many situations and you’ll have some amazing footage of the craziness around you.

If this has terrified you and you’re now afraid to step outside, don’t be. Many people drive in Dar for years without anything untoward happening. It’s just good to know what could happen, so you are prepared.

Now go hit the road!

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Dar Post

Dar Post is an online community for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We provide you with timely and relevant community information.