“Whenever I drive upcountry, I am stopped by traffic police at different checkpoints. I have been issued a penalty receipt once because one of my tyres did not treads and the officer advised that I have it replaced immediately,” says Martin Mugisha, who drives a tour company car.
Similarly, as Timothy Mwebesa drove to Mbarara one afternoon in February, he was stopped by a traffic officer approximately two kilometres after Lukaaya Trading Centre. While he wondered what offence he had committed, the traffic officer politely asked to be dropped in Lyantonde District.
Charles Ssebambulidde, the spokesperson of the police traffic directorate, says in official capacity, a traffic officer will stop you using their right hand stretched upright, with the palm facing your car and use the left hand to wave you off the road and to a parking area.
They then talk to you casually and ask to look at your driving permit. If it necessitates that your car must be taken to the police station, they at times ask for towing services upon sensing that you are devastated and cannot drive yourself. Your car will also be towed if the traffic officer feels unsafe riding with you. In this incident, they ask you to get out of the car.
“If the officer assesses that you can drive to the police station, they sit in your car and ask you to drive to the police station. This is only when they have all the requirements that an offence was committed and must be handled from the police station,” Ssebambulidde explains, adding that sometimes along the way to the station, you may be warned and issued with a respective warning form because it (warning) is provided for in police duties and procedures.
If you refuse to stop
If you are stopped by a traffic officer and you do not stop, they read your number plate and communicate to the check point ahead. The officer prescribes the offence committed, say a hit and run, reckless driving or over speeding, where the offence happened, the vehicle make (saloon, SUV or truck), colour, direction of flow, position or location of the reporting officer and the time and date the offence occured.
This, Ssebambulidde, says, informs the gravity of how the driver should be handled. When your car has been captured by the CCTV cameras, the number plate is fed into the traffic system and your vehicle is declared ‘wanted’.
Checking your car
It is quite bothersome to some motorists when a traffic officer stops them and checks their car without informing them of the offence committed. However, traffic officers sometimes look out for certain things. For example, they understand when different number plate series were introduced on the road and base on this to check if your third party insurance is expired or still valid.
They also sometimes go on the road with different targets, say checking vehicle condition. By the time the officer gets to the driver, they either inform you of the condition of the car or let you proceed.
Driving a cracked or dented car
Ssebambulidde says in case you knock or are knocked, it is advisable to immediately report the incident to police if you are to drive long distances because it will be an uphill task for you to convince a traffic officer who stops you along the road, say in Masaka, that you sustained the knock from Mbarara. The other option is to have the dent or crack fixed immediately before you start your journey
“On highways, there are many hit and run incidents. If you hit a bird or any animal and blood splatters on your car, report the incident to police and they will give you a free form that you are taking the vehicle for repair,” Ssebambulidde advises.
Checking your car in traffic jam
Traffic jam cannot be avoided, especially when driving in the city centre, where sometimes traffic officers take advantage of the jam and check your car because you have no escape route. According to Ssebambulidde, it is sometimes in traffic jam queues where dangerous mechanical condition (DMC) cars of all nature are found. As such, there is no restriction to a traffic officer from checking your car because it could be a wanted car or a DMC that is likely to cause an accident ahead if they allow it to continue.
“If there is space, the officer is supposed to wave you off the road and ask you to park by the roadside. We do not look for offences in traffic jam but once an offence is detected, it will be handled whether you are in traffic jam or not,” he says.
However, Ssebambulidde says not every time you are stopped by a traffic officer means they are looking out for a possible offence. He says there are circumstances when a traffic officer will stop you just so that you offer them a lift. In this case, the officer uses their left hand and you have a right to either stop or proceed with your journey.
When your car is ‘wanted’
If you cause an accident and you do not report and the victims take initiative to report, your car is declared ‘wanted’. If you are issued with express penalty tickets and the 28 consecutive days of having them paid have expired, and the express penalty scheme system captures you as a defaulter, your car will also be declared ‘wanted’. Other cars could be wanted for robbery when the traffic directorate is tipped off by the criminal investigations department.