Traffic is a public health issue that should be in our school curriculum
Posted Monday, November 4 2013 at 02:00
Three thousand one hundred twenty-four people died in traffic accidents last year. According to mortality tables in Statistical Abstract 2013, this means traffic ranks as the number six killer in Uganda, just behind tuberculosis.
In other words, it is a serious public health problem and needs to be addressed as such. How can we reduce traffic morbidity and mortality? This question is not only for planners and police to answer, it should also be high on the agenda of public health workers.
As an intervention to prevent traffic deaths, improving the quality of the road network is an essential but very far from sufficient intervention. It is an inadequate answer to the question above. Weeding out dangerous vehicles is another and more important matter but also insufficient. Relatively few of the fatal road accidents can be linked to road conditions or the mechanical condition of the vehicle.
Like with most other potentially dangerous conditions, knowledge is vital. We know that certain types of mosquitoes are malaria vectors for instance and try to avoid mosquito bites and stay away from stagnant water where they breed. We need to identify the “stagnant water” related to traffic.
All categories of traffic players seem to ignore one crucial fact: when somebody puts on a ton of steel and uses a powerful engine to move around, that person acquires properties that are very different from those he or she has when dressed in textiles and moving on foot.
That is actually the first thing a driving school student should be made aware of and then told that this engine and the ton of steel must be under his or her full control at all times.
Knowing the dynamics of a vehicle in motion and refining the kinetic sense, the one that is in play when we move, is important for a prospective driver but does not per se make him or her safe and harmless to other road users. On foot we can move more or less at random, normally the speed is not high enough to cause serious injuries in case of a collision but we tend nevertheless to successfully avoid bumping into each other.
Increasing ones weight with a ton of steel and getting assistance from an engine to go at a pace of several kilometres per hour creates a different situation all together. It is an activity that evidently needs some regulation.
These regulations are found in the Highway Code. This is a small booklet, easy to read and with instructive illustrations. Unfortunately, most traffic actors seem to be unfamiliar with it. The resulting ignorance is the “stagnant water” and main cause of the public health problem traffic has become. Before Dr Semmelweiss’ discovery of the importance of hygiene was commonly recognised, people were lucky if they left hospital alive.
That very simple knowledge has saved millions of lives. The Highway Code also contains simple knowledge that if applied, would reduce at least by 80 per cent the number of traffic deaths in the country.
From my girls’ homework and textbooks I know that public health is in the curriculum at least from Primary Three. Traffic should also be included from that stage or preferably all the way from nursery school. It has been done elsewhere; there exists a lot of didactic material as well in terms of books as of traffic games. Children enjoy it and learn from an early stage how to behave in traffic, knowing their rights and obligations.
In secondary school, the traffic curriculum could be crowned in S5 and S6 with actual driving instructions. The education given by our present driving schools is obviously inadequate. When a candidate is sent out in traffic, told that she now needs to practice on her own to obtain the necessary skills, it does not sound very reassuring.
Without a change in such an attitude, we will remain with this public health problem for a long time.
Mr Lund is a visiting senior lecturer, Department of Architecture and Physical Planning- Makerere University.