Historically, little attention has been paid to the problem of road safety management in Uganda. The police annual traffic report, 3,500 people die on our roads annually of which pedestrians (1,493) and boda-boda riders and their passengers (1,282) are the most killed road user groups.
And yes, it is now evident that more people die as a result of road traffic injuries than from HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases globally. Road traffic crashes are associated with untold suffering, grief and poverty, especially if the bread winner is involved in a crash.
The economic loss is estimated at Shs4.4 trillion, which is in form of property damage, medical bills and lost income/taxes. Dealing with this problem will save government lots of money that could be used to finance other sectors to enable the country leapfrog to middle income status.
Road traffic injuries are complex because they involve multiple factors. These include the behavior of people on the road; the mechanical condition of the vehicle; and the road infrastructure. There is insufficient understanding and appreciation of the problem in Uganda, which is why prevention has predominantly focused on educating and punishing reckless drivers.
Targeting the behaviour of drivers alone has not sustainably resulted in the reduction of road traffic injuries. Countries that have successfully dealt with road traffic injuries embraced an approach that accounts for the needs of all road users - pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists) in the design of their roads systems.
Road safety management in Uganda has a number of challenges related to the weak institutional capacity at all levels, including infrastructure deficit, inadequate emergency preparedness and response; weak road safety data systems; and limited capacity by the police and National Road Safety Council, who are mandated to coordinate road safety. Because of these challenges and many more, Uganda has not made substantial progress in the reduction of road traffic injuries and death.
Moving forward, we have to implement a National Road Safety Policy with input from all key stakeholders in road safety management. In addition, road safety management should address issues of funding mechanisms and establishment of credible data systems to monitor progress of road safety and intervention effectiveness.
We need to see the needs of all road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists) accounted for by the road authorities, engineers and planners. The idea of periodic and mandatory motor vehicle inspection is great if the purpose is to promote safer vehicles. We can see from the recent incident weeks ago at Bukoto traffic lights junction where a heavy truck failed to stop and rammed into other vehicles killing many people and injuring others.
The point here is that some road traffic crashes are avoidable if only we could move away from focusing on human error to implement a holistic approach that addresses road use behaviour, vehicle mechanical condition and the road infrastructure. Getting involved in a road accident can be traumatising even when you sustain minor injury.
This is because the rescue of those affected is left to the mercy of first the local folk, many of whom have no skills of handling the injured. The traffic police who aid in transporting the injured use pick-up trucks that are not meant to do ambulance work. Road accidents don’t discriminate.
Therefore, as celebrations to mark the 5th UN Road Safety Week that kicked off on May 6-12, it is important that Ugandans use this as an opportunity to demand for excellent pre-hospital care systems and quality hospital trauma care systems that will save road accident victims.
This could be achieved through developing a national strategy on emergency medical services as a first step.
The country stands to save lives, property and funds lost during road accidents if much attention is paid to preventive rather than curative measures.
Mr Osuret is a researcher on road traffic injuries with
Makerere University School of Public Health.