Thursday March 6 2014

This is why some Ugandans resent safety belts

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

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.

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.

All of my personal properties including a wallet, money and driving permit were stolen by some other people who were pretending to help us.

I recorded a statement with police in the area the following day and had to part away with over Shs3m to have the car repaired. My advice to other drivers is that they should always wear seatbelts. I wore one and it saved my life.

“Well, in case the seatbelt is there in a car, I ensure that I wear it as a safety measure against injuries that could easily be sustained in any accident,”
Kenneth Okiring, student

“Since they are very helpful in saving people’s lives, I always make sure to wear one. What I like about them is that they prevent one from being thrown out of a car when an accident happens,”
John Byamukama, security personnel

“I can only wear a seat belt if the road is very bumpy so as to keep me in one position. Besides how do they expect us to wear seatbelts when yet they are not even in some of these vehicles such as taxis?”
Ritah Nakalema, student

“ I find it very useful to wear a seatbelt whenever I am seated on either the driver or passenger seat. This is because it prevents me from bumping my head onto the dashboard in case the car stops suddenly,”
Charles Mukubwa, basketball coach

“Of course I love wearing seatbelts because they keep me in one position when the car is moving. I am assured of protection against many injuries if any accident occurs,”
Vincent Wandera, shop attendant

“I hate wearing seatbelts especially those in taxis because they are so badly fitted. Some of them even emit a bad smell. How can one expect me to wear such a thing?”
Gloria Ainemasiko, student

“ I like wearing them because they prevent me from getting many injuries in case an accident occurs. I strongly encourage other motorists and passengers to always use them,”
Abel Bwire, engineer

“I do not like wearing them that much because some of the people who wear them have skin infections. There are high chances of the next occupant acquiring the infection,”
Ahmed Khelil, architect

“Seatbelts are very uncomfortable. I dislike them because they limit my movements whenever I am in a car. For example at times when I want to turn or change a seat, I cannot do it easily because of the belt holding me back,”
brenda nakakande, cashier

“Seatbelts are just like helmets because they carry diseases especially skin rashes. They also keep a person in one position. I rarely wear them unless I see a traffic police officer on the road, and I am the one driving,”
Hamuza Ddungu, Photographer

“I love sitting freely whenever I am in a car. Wearing a seat belt especially in a crowded taxi makes me uneasy. Some of these belts are so tight and when one wears it, it presses their chest so hard,”
Gorret Ahebwa, student

“I am one person who is not often bothered if there is a seat belt in a car or not. But the truth is, I hate wearing them. Sometimes, they are too dirty to the extent that they stain one’s shirt,”
Darius Okello, graduate

“I am a short person. Therefore whenever I am driving, I have to constantly elevate my head in order to see beyond the car screen. If I am wearing a seat belt, I struggle so hard to see what is ahead of me. This is why I do not like wearing them,”

“I am not a pretentious driver, the type that wears a seatbelt when they see a police officer and then removes it when the officer is not within the vicinity. I always wear my seatbelt. It guarantees my safety in case any accident happens.”
AGRREY SALONGO, taxi driver