In a recent World Health Organisation report, Uganda ranked among the five countries with the highest number of road traffic accidents, with an estimated loss of 2.9 of the country’s GDP in terms of human life, lost time and disability.
The report on global status on Road Safety 2013 indicates that Uganda had 2,954 deaths in 2010 as a result of road accidents. Nigeria registered 4,065 and South Africa had the highest number of deaths at 13,768 in 2009.
According to the 2012 Crime, Traffic and Road Safety report, 3,124 people were killed while 13,137 were seriously injured.
The epidemic of road traffic injuries has been growing over time with little attention being given to the problem, both at planning and policy implementation levels.
This, according to Dr Olive Kobusingye, the Research Fellow, Principal Investigator of the Trauma, Injuries and Disabilities Project at the School of Public Health Makerere University, is because road traffic injuries, and deaths have not been looked at as an epidemic like cholera, Ebola or HIV, as it is perceived to be less dramatic.
“Yet, every day people die on the road. Needlessly, because the key sectors directly charged with the duty to prevent these injuries have not prioritised this ever growing problem,” she says.
According to Dr Kobusingye, the ministry of health – charged with the duty to prevent disease, disability and preventable deaths, the Ministry of Works and Transport – for ensuring that roads are made safe for users and the Uganda People’s Police Force – to implement the road traffic Act have not devised any strategies to prevent road traffic injuries and deaths.
In a research paper titled, “The Neglected Epidemic: Road Traffic Injuries in the Developing Countries”, authored by the chairman of Uganda Aids Commission Prof Vinand Nantulya, and published in the British Medical Journal, the growth of motor vehicle numbers, poor enforcement of traffic safety regulations, inadequacy of public health infrastructure and poor access to health services are the major leading cause of injuries.
Dr Steven Kasiima, the assistant Inspector General of Police in the Traffic and Road Safety Directorate, says the major cause of road traffic accidents that result into injuries, disabilities and deaths are due to road indiscipline and pedestrian ignorance. This, he says, accounts for about 80 per cent of road traffic accidents in the country. This includes reckless driving, speeding, inconsiderate use of the road, careless or ignorant pedestrians, incompetent drivers and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The other major cause of the accidents on the roads outside Kampala, according to Kasiima, is that roads are not lit and are not separated which is the major cause of head-on collisions at night.
“Majority of the drivers on our roads are not law abiding, they lack good training on road usage and are generally poor drivers who can only drive vehicles forward without consideration of the road safety signs,” he says, adding that the pedestrians – the biggest per cent of the accident victims – are ignorant of the safety signs, the highway code and do not know how and when to cross on a highway.
On the side of drivers, he attributes the problem to poor driving schools which pass half-baked drivers. In fact, he says that as a country, Uganda has no standard driving school. “We have things resembling driving schools.”
He also blames the driving permit licensing officers who just dish out permits to whoever can afford them without proper road tests both theoretical and practical.
“Most importantly, our roads do not have provisions for pedestrians yet they are the majority of the road users. More than 90 per cent of our roads have no facilities enabling pedestrians to cross and this has contributed to the growing number of hit and run victims,” he says.
Motorists versus pedestrians
Dr Kobusingye agrees with this, saying that there is a growing culture in Uganda that glorifies motorists at the expense of majority of pedestrians. “And that’s why even the new roads being constructed do not have any planned pathways for pedestrians to cross the road even on highways. This goes to show that while they are the majority, they are not being planned for and as long as this is not changed, deaths and injuries on the road will remain.”
Dr Kobusingye says that the accident injuries in Uganda will exist for years because the country has been laying ground for major road traffic accidents by failing to improve the physical infrastructure that is being pressured by rapid urbanisation and motorisation.
“The consequences are fairly easy to predict – because there are a lot of vulnerable road users who are not externally protected yet they share space with fast moving vehicles. With this combination of increased urbanisation and more motor vehicles coming in every day while the infrastructure remains the same, more serious accidents will continue to happen,” she says.