Every day motorists in Kampala city and nearby suburbs wake up early morning to yet another nightmare; traffic jams.
The traffic jams have become such a pain in the neck to most motorists that on average, motorists lose up to two hours during peak traffic time while leaving or getting into the city. And while in the past the traffic jams were manifest in the city centre, now they have spread out to the highways and now literally start at one’s gate.
It is not difficult to tell why Kampala is in this kind of traffic mess. Statistics show that 70 per cent of all motor vehicles in Uganda (Uganda currently has about 500,000 motor vehicles) operate in Kampala.
Other official figures also indicate that 90 per cent of the 10,000 minibuses operating in Kampala are providing downtown service (The Kampala Traffic Improvement Project, 2002).
However, as the different motorists struggle to beat the bumper-to-bumper jam to drop a child at school or rush to catch an early meeting at office, there always comes a vehicle which doesn’t follow the queue. It will drive on the shoulder, on road kerb or even on the opposite side to find its way.
Sometimes it will be an ambulance trying to rush the sick to hospital, a police patrol vehicle ferrying suspects, or a presidential [or some other VIP] convoy. But many times it will be any red-plated pick-up truck, Toyota Land Cruiser or any other “big” government car.
Indeed, road users are familiar with heavily tinted vehicles whose occupants usually keep driving irrespective of the jam. The registration numbers of the vehicles belong to the President’s Office, army, police, Local Government, etc.
On July 2, this regular road scene played out at the Mukwano roundabout in Kampala at 3pm as a Toyota Land Cruiser bearing ministry of Local Government registration number ignored the traffic rules and in presence of traffic police officers, decided to drive on the right so oncoming vehicles had to stop and give way. Motorists in Uganda as supposed to keep left.
Even ambulances that ordinarily have the right of way are now being abused with drivers turning on the siren even when they are not in an emergence situation, often followed by a pack of opportunist motorists taking advantage of space cleared for the ambulance!
With such incidents common on the roads, traffic officers are left powerless since they aren’t aware of the occupants and what urgent mission they are up to.
So who is entitled to right of way and who isn’t?
According to the Director of Traffic and Road Safety in the Uganda Police, Dr Steven Kasiima, there are several institutions/individuals that have continuously abused traffic rules by pretending to be Very Important Persons (VIPs).
Dr Kasiima says it is only in emergency situations that somebody can be allowed to have right of way. He adds that private vehicles whether tinted or not tinted, traditional leaders, and bullion vans from commercial institutions are not entitled to right of way.
He says the public isn’t knowledgeable of this and this partly is the cause of trouble on the road. Dr Kasiima says if the public was aware of their road usage, then they wouldn’t be giving way to people who are not entitled to right of way.
He reaffirms the police guideline as it is only police vehicles that are entitled to right of way but sometimes army vehicles are allowed to clear way provided that they are on security mission or are escorting a highly placed person in the army.
“The amended Traffic Act allows ambulances, President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice plus a bullion van from Central Bank right of way. However, there are times according to situations when any person can ask for right of way according to the nature of the journey,” Dr Kasiima says.
Dr Kasiima clarifies that ambulances are only entitled to right of way when on emergency but when one isn’t handling an emergency, there isn’t need for right of way.