Twenty years ago Rwanda had one of the worst road-safety records in the world. But once the government recognized that making roads safer could help with the rehabilitation of a nation traumatized by the 1994 genocide, its efforts have won international acclaim. After the genocide which plunged Rwanda into mourning in 1994, the country knew that one method of rehabilitation was improving its road infrastructure which was damaged during the genocide leading to many road traffic deaths. While traveling to Rwanda, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in developed countries like the United States. In Rwanda, as in the United States, traffic moves on the right-hand side of the road.
Tourists are prohibited from driving outside Kigali city limits after dark (6:00 p.m.), and are not permitted to use motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis. Due to safety and security concerns, the use of motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis for transportation is not recommended. Regulated orange-striped (along the base of the vehicle) sedan auto taxis are safer, but be sure to agree on a fare before beginning your trip. Public transportation can be dangerous due to overloading, inadequate maintenance, and careless drivers.
The main roads in Rwanda are in relatively good condition, but during the rainy season many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Night time driving, particularly outside major cities, is hazardous and is discouraged. Often, roadways are not marked and lack streetlights and shoulders. Many sections have deteriorated surfaces. Due to possible language barriers and lack of roadside assistance, receiving help may be difficult. You may be stopped at police roadblocks throughout the country, where your vehicle and luggage may be searched. Service stations are available along main roads.
For those self driving in Rwanda, you should especially exercise caution at traffic circles and traffic lights, as drivers do not always respect the right-of-way. Excessive speed, careless driving, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are hazards on Rwanda’s roads. Many vehicles are not well maintained, and headlights are either extremely dim or not used. Drivers tend to speed and pass other cars with little discretion. Some streets in Kigali have sidewalks or sufficient space for pedestrian traffic, while others do not, and pedestrians are forced to walk along the roadway. Street lighting is limited and drivers often have difficulty seeing pedestrians. Additional road hazards include cyclists, pedestrians, and livestock.
Third-party insurance is required and will cover any damages from involvement in an accident resulting in injuries, if you are found not to have been at fault. The driver’s license of individuals determined to have caused an accident may be confiscated for three months. Causing a fatal accident could result in three to six months’ imprisonment. Drunk drivers are jailed for 24 hours and fined 20,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF)(approximately $35). Call 311 from any mobile phone to reach local police or any of these local police station numbers. Ambulance assistance is very limited but can be obtained in Kigali by dialing 912. Wear seat belts and drive with care and patience at all times.
Rwandan traffic laws prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving and, if apprehended, the driver will be fined 10,000 RWF (about $18). Hands-free devices may be used. As of August 2010, after-market tinted window treatments are prohibited on all vehicles; those apprehended will be required to remove them.