Tuesday April 22 2014

Time to have a sober approach to drink-driving

By Nicholas Sengoba

Where I live, two shocking incidents involving inebriated drivers in the recent past have left me with no doubt that Uganda is facing a serious challenge regarding the crime of drink-driving.
In the first incident, a driver too drank to stand, rammed into the rear of a vehicle with young ladies.

A couple of the girls went to an early grave. The rest inherited different versions of disabilities. The driver escaped unhurt and is still driving on our road – many times under the influence of alcohol.

The second involved a mischievous young man who stole his father’s car, went on a drinking spree and then mauled a couple of people in the trading centre after he failed to control the vehicle.
Luckily for him, the father is a rich man who paid the funeral expenses of the dead and treated the injured, many of whom lost limbs and have been rendered partially helpless. The young man is still driving, sometimes under the influence of alcohol.

The dilemma for a drunk driver is that alcohol blurs judgment. Most of the drink-driving accidents in Uganda, according to the police, take place at night between 11pm and 7am on narrow roads that are not well lit or paved, yet the drunk driver is not fully in charge of their faculties. It means the moment a drunk person enters his/her car, the possibility of an accident occurring is extremely high. This means the driver minus the alcohol significantly minimises the chances of having an accident.

Motor accidents are a very costly affair. The obvious first cost is to the vehicles or the property both movable and unmovable that the accident impacts. These may be repaired or replaced.

But most significant is the threat to the human resource involved that makes accidents scary. It takes about 25 years and millions of shilling to train a doctor. The shenanigans of a drunk driver can end all this in seconds. A mechanic, journalist, grass cutter, butcher, potter, builder or nurse may lose an arm, leg or eye and that hampers their ability to work and earn.

The wider implication when the country loses a productive person is that not only are we short of a taxpayer but we also have an increase in dependents who lose a mother or father. It may mean the end of their schooling and stability. The impact it has on the already overstretched healthcare system is another point of thought.

We urgently need to minimise drink-driving accidents.
The current practice of treating suspects to a Breathalyzer test, jailing them for a night until they sober up then fining them half a million shilling or less, is akin to child’s play. It has rendered the whole scheme a revenue collection exercise. You drink, drive, you are fined then you pay and go back to your mischief.

The law has to be changed. Let it be cast in stone that for a first offender there is a jail term of three months. The driver should be fined Shs2 million and their license suspended for six months. They should be counselled on alcohol use and abuse as well.

A subsequent offence should lead to cancellation of the driver’s license for a period of five years and a fine of Shs5 million on top of a year’s jail term with hard labour.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com