By Dennis Katungi
Barbara Mwanje, the Chief Executive Officer – Safe Way Right Way knows a thing or two about Road Safety. I agree with her Opinion run by the Daily Monitor of July 6th, 2018. It was titled: Government should include road safety on the insecurity agenda. How pertinent!
On the morning her article appeared, five people including the former deputy Resident District Commissioner for Kalungu had just perished in a fatal accident a kilometer outside Kyazanga Town. Operation Fika Salama launched at the peak of road carnage in 2016 did indeed reduce the accident toll on the Masaka High-way, but as usual, the sting has gone out of that operation and reckless drivers are back in the business of human slaughter on the high-way.
I am not sure that we have the equivalent of Fika Salama on other major trunk roads that traverse the country; and why is that? Police should offer a rationale. The Highway via Karuma is notorious for fatal accidents and so is the trunk via Jinja heading east.
Road traffic accidents in Uganda remain a substantial public health problem. It is all the more acute because the victims are overwhelmingly healthy and in their prime of life.
A Police report indicated that within just two months (May – June 2017) 1024 accidents were recorded, 156 of them fatal. In recent times, we have seen Helicopters fly to rescue the high & mighty involved in road accidents. How about the average Ugandan with no access to even a simple ambulance to rescue them from these death scenes?
I look at our road safety issues from a variety of angles. Driver training is very wanting. It is possible that 70% of drivers on the roads are half baked, having simply learnt driving in their compounds and back streets with no instruction on road safety by a qualified instructor. They can’t interpret road markings or signage; have no courtesy or consideration for other road users and they recon driving is about speeding.
I use licensed drivers on long journeys in Uganda. They come recommended as professionals. I see them attempt to overtake on the unbroken yellow line. I watch them break the safe gap rule between vehicles. When you engage them in a conversation you find they don’t actually know these and many other simple rules a qualified driver ought to know. Road signs, zigzag lines, room for emergency breaking etc are alien to them.
If the so called professional drivers are so casual on road safety, how about the youth who learnt to drive in Daddy’s car? How about the many young ladies taught by their equally half baked boyfriends or husbands?
If you are a decent driver observing traffic rules on our roads, you find you are the odd one out. You stop at red traffic lights, drivers behind hoot. You give way at round-about, those behind you move over and over take, on the left shoulder. What you observe is survival of the naughtiest of drivers. You slow & stop at zebra crossing, others will zoom past you. You may endanger pedestrians if you stop at crossings because drivers in the other lanes will not bother to stop. Some times its better to let the pedestrian use their own instinct to cross, when they feel safe rather than you giving way.
Then there is the menace of Boda-Bodas. I have on a number of occasions asked traffic police why they let Boda-Bodas ride as they like. At busy junctions all over town, Police control only vehicles. Boda Bodas have no rules to follow whatsoever. In a traffic jam, they will ride on pavements as well as contra-flow to traffic. When a police officer signals traffic to stop, they will simply zoom past him as if they are not part of traffic. Officers told me, it is impossible to control Bodas because of the numbers. Even if officers pulled two Boda-Bodas on side for breach of rules, 100 will just ride past!
Vehicles and motorcycles in Uganda are not checked for road-worthiness as a matter of routine. A big percentage are in dangerous mechanical condition (DMCs), resulting in accidents.
We need to urgently re-think road safety. Regulation of Boda Bodas is long overdue. Drivers & Riders ought to be properly tested before they are licensed. All Vehicles should have annual mandatory inspection for road-worthiness with owners paying for the test. Traffic Police should receive the support they need, training, equipment, deployment. Let the technology we’ve been talking about kick-in: CCTV, advanced speed cameras etc. Otherwise, Uganda continues to bleed on the Highways.
Mr Dennis Katungi is the Communications & Media Relations Director, Uganda Media Centre.