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This is why some Ugandans resent safety belts

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Wearing a seatbelt  helps minimise chances of death or serious injuries by at least 75 per cent.

Wearing a seatbelt helps minimise chances of death or serious injuries by at least 75 per cent. FILE PHOTO 

By Esther Oluka

Posted  Thursday, March 6  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Safety belts or seatbelts are supposed to be worn by all motorists and passengers alike. However, for some reason many Ugandans think otherwise. Sadly, their reasons are not that convincing. Esther Oluka writes, about this dangerous trend and asks some people why they are reluctant to wear them.

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There are various reasons as to why car users get injured or die during road accidents. Not wearing a seatbelt is just one of them. Some of the biggest culprits have been known to be taxi drivers. Some of them only fasten their seatbelts after seeing a police officer at a distance. Once they have driven their vehicle past the officer, they unbuckle the belt.

One such driver is Tony Muleera who says that he never bothers to wear one because it limits his movements while driving. “I want to be free as much as possible whenever I am behind the wheel and of course it cannot happen if I wear a belt. I hate those things,” Muleera explains. Regardless of how uncomfortable these belts are to some car users, Lawrence Niwabiine, the head of traffic in Kampala says wearing them is a safety measure which saves lives.

“It is very important for individuals to wear seatbelts because they prevent one from sustaining injuries mostly those resulting from bumping one’s head on the dashboard or being thrown out of the windscreen,” Niwabine explains. He goes ahead to emphasise that apart from the taxi drivers, drivers of other types of cars do not like fastening their belts. He terms this as a conditioned behaviour. “Where there is no police officer, a motorist will never do a correct thing. There has to be a police officer for a motorist to do the right thing which is a bad culture in this country,” he explains. Whether it is a passenger or the driver, Niwabiine says that every one in a car is vulnerable to injuries.

What is police doing about it?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released a 2013 report and among the interventions to reduce road carnage and the injuries was a recommendation to wear seatbelts especially in African countries. In Uganda, as an enforcement strategy, if one is found not wearing a seatbelt, they are either cautioned or given a spot fine of Shs80,000.

Niwabiine cautions pregnant women who normally give the excuse that the belt tightens their bellies not to at least drive at a speed above 50 kph. But if they know that they are going to speed, then they should use the seat belt or not travel,” he explains. The head of traffic in Kampala also says that most police officers who stop cars that have children not wearing seat belts have often educated them about their importance.

“We talk to these children because they put the advice into practice easier than the adults. It is easy for them to remember what they were told by the police officer about wearing seatbelts when they are being taken to school the following morning.”

Niwabiine supplements this statement by pointing out that there will be a campaign this year that will involve police officers moving into primary schools and one of the issues they will emphasise is the use of seatbelts. “The impact will be so great when these young people get hold of this information.”
For those who dislike wearing them, claiming that they are dirty, they are being advised to always carry an extra handkerchief or piece of cloth to wipe the belt before wearing it.

Some are not genuine
“In Uganda, many of the cars that are driven are the outdated and old fashioned type which do not come with their original seatbelts. So they have their seatbelts fabricated and fitted from Kisenyi, Katwe and other slum areas,” Niwabiine adds, “Public service vehicles are the most imported ones without seatbelts.”

In order to guarantee maximum safety to car users, Niwabiine says it is high time the country upgrades on the kind of vehicles we import into the country by buying those that already have fitted in seatbelts. The habit of not fastening seatbelts contributes to five per cent of the total injuries sustained during road accidents. Niwabiine states that the major way of reducing this percentage to zero is by motorists embracing the benefits of wearing the seatbelt.

HOW A SEATBELT HELPED ME
It was December 25, 2006. I was driving to Nebbi, my home district for Christmas. My older brother was with me in the car. He was in the passenger seat. As I was approaching Karuma Falls, I slowed down a bit so as to drive over the bridge carefully.

When I had crossed over to the other side, I loosened the grip of my hands around the wheel after knowing that I crossed one of the most dangerous places on the way.

I just wish I had not done that. This is because a few minutes later, I lost control of the steering wheel and smashed the car onto a raised concrete road block that was placed at one of the far right sides of the road. The most affected side was mine and part of the car bonnet.

I got minor injuries on my upper left arm. My head was unharmed because the seatbelt saved me from hitting my head against the wheel. It kept me intact in one position during the impact.

Otherwise, if I had not been wearing it, my head would have hit the steering wheel and who knows what kind of complications I would have developed?

My brother also sustained minor injuries because he was wearing a seatbelt too. Someone who had a car and was driving by is the one who took me and my brother to a nearby clinic to acquire first aid.

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