In the run up to the 2011 general elections the ruling NRM promised to make several interventions to improve the road safety situation in order to stem carnage on Uganda’s roads if it was given a fresh mandate.
The party presented a three-point action plan, including a proposal to introduce teaching about matters road safety in the schools.
The promise was also part of an effort to implement the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, which had been proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2010.
The UN had been prompted to pass the resolution after it emerged that 1.3 million people annually, or about 3,000 per day, were dying in road traffic accidents yet more than half the number of those people were found not to have been travelling in a car.
It also emerged that between 20 and 50 million people sustain non-fatal injuries, but that some of these injuries were responsible for the high number of people who ended up disabled.
However, more worrying was the fact that most of the traffic related deaths were occurring in low and middle income countries, which account for less than half of the world’s registered vehicles, and that road accidents were the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 5 and 44.
“Unless immediate and effective action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death in the world, resulting in an estimated 2.4 million deaths each year,” the UN document read in parts.
The document which blamed the accidents on rapid increase in motorisation without sufficient improvements in road safety strategies and land use planning, put the consequence of motor accidents in economic terms at between 1 per cent and 3 per cent of the respective Gross National Product (GNP) of the world countries, reaching a total of $500 billion.
“Reducing road casualties and fatalities will reduce suffering, unlock growth and free resources for more productive use,” the document further reads.
The plan aimed to reduce fatalities that were being suffered on the world’s roads by increasing activities conducted at national, regional and global levels to improve safety conditions on the roads.
At a local level, it was at the time estimated that Uganda was annually losing up to 20,000 people, mostly those between the ages of 18 and 32, in traffic accidents that could have been avoided if Uganda’s motorists had a better road safety culture and if the Ugandan traffic police department was to enforce traffic rules more rigorously.
Other causes of the senseless deaths on the roads were identified as recklessness and the predominantly narrow two-lane roads that constitute most of the country’s road network.
Matters were believed to have been made worse by the sharp increase in the number of vehicles on Uganda’s roads yet driver education and skilling, vehicle and road maintenance knowledge and discipline had not been catered for to match the increase.
A senior driving instructor at Nakawa Vocational Training Institute, Mr Stephen Asiimwe, was quoted by sections of the Ugandan media early in 2008 arguing that most motorists on Uganda’s roads were functionally ignorant, with many keen to buy and drive cars without putting any effort into trying to understand the mechanical makeup and requirements of their vehicles.
The World Health Organisation had at the time listed road accidents as a grave problem, which was turning out to be a major challenge to the public health sector in many developing countries, including Uganda.
It was partially because of the local situation and the need to localise aspects of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 that the NRM promised the interventions.
“The road safety situation needs improvement in order to save lives of Ugandans…As part of the Decade for Action to reduce road carnage by one half, government will undertake widespread road safety education amongst the masses; (and) mainstream road safety in schools…” the manifesto read in part.
It was thought that the integration of road safety in the schools’ curricula would help in not only reducing the number of accidents involving especially school children, especially in cases of crossing of the roads, but that it would in time help people to start developing road discipline and a culture of patience on the roads, beginning from an early stage.
While the NRM has implemented part of the manifesto, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that it has had the desired effect.
Several accidents such as the May 25 accident that involved a Gaagaa bus and a truck which occurred at Kalule Village, in Luweero District, claiming the lives of 24 people, have proved that the education is yet to result into a decrease in the carnage on our roads. If anything, the situation seems to have deteriorated.
Quoting computations done by the data intelligence and data visualisation firm, Crane Analytics on data from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), a special report, “Road Accidents: 50,000 lives lost in 20 years”, which was carried in the Sunday Monitor on June 17, revealed that those lives had been lost since 1997 in 5,836 accidents recorded in diverse parts of the country.
An analysis of the Ubos statistics further revealed that passengers were the biggest casualties as they constituted 35.1 per cent of the deaths, followed by pedestrians at 32.9 per cent, motorcyclists 16.9 per cent, pedal cyclists at 9.5 per cent, while drivers were the least affected as they constituted only 5.7 per cent of the deaths.
Another report, “Road traffic incidents in Ugandan: a systematic review of a five year trend”, which was published in the Journal of Injury and Violence Research in January 2017 revealed that road accident deaths account for 28.9 per 100,000 deaths, which is far higher the African average of 24.1 per 100,000 deaths and the global average of 18.0 per 100,000 deaths.
The report suggests that Ugandan is among the top ranking countries in road traffic accidents along with South Africa, Nigeria, Iran, Thailand and the Dominican Republic at 31.9, 33.7, 34.1, 38.1, and 41.7 per 100,000 population, respectively. At the same time the journal reports that traffic injuries are among the top 10 causes of mortality.
“This has cost Uganda dearly particularly in terms of the loss of a significant proportion of its economically active population, which in turn retards its economic growth and development,” the article reads in part.
The Director of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Ms Grace Birungi, told Daily Monitor that road safety has since been introduced in the curriculum and that a lot of audio and visual literature has since been produced to facilitate teaching of road safety issues in primary schools.
“We integrated it in the curriculum more than 10 years ago. The books are there and the videos are there too. We have done a lot of work there,” she said.
Ms Birungi was, however, quick to point out that the materials that have so far been generated are for primary level, but that plans to integrate road safety into the secondary schools’ curriculum are underway.
While integration of road safety in the schools’ curriculum was a great idea that might pay off in the future, the figures from Ubos and those from the Journal of Injury and Violence drive home, and quite emphatically, the fact that Uganda’s roads are death traps.
The situation is untenable. The country needs to conduct a holistic review of the road safety situation.
However, even as the country works on a review of the same, it is important that those in government try to move in a coordinated manner and also adopt a multi-sector approach involving key government ministries such as that of Works, Transport and Communication; Lands, Housing and Urban Development; and that of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
This will help avoid hitches such as shortage of funds which have plagued implementation of documents such as the National Transport Master Plan (NTMP), including a Transport Master Plan for the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GMKA).
The master plan, which was meant to address the numerous transport challenges in Kampala City, was unveiled by the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication in August 2009, but most of what it had been planned to achieve, including the formation of a Metropolitan Planning Authority and expansion of the city’s roads and creation of flyovers, has never been realised on account of a shortage of funds.
Involvement of the Finance ministry in such a review would, therefore, help the implementers avoid the pitfalls that pegged back implementation of the transport master plan.
At the same time, we urgently need to introduce road safety issues in places of work and in institutions of higher learning.
“Teaching about road safety takes place in the schools. Teachers have it in their lesson plans. Most of the teaching actually takes place during English language lessons where children study it, reading stories and answering questions to judge how they comprehend issues. They also some sometimes write compositions. It is also taught during social studies lessons,”
Alex Isabirye, Mwiri Primary School Headmaster
“We integrated it in the curriculum more than 10 years ago. The books are there and the videos are there too. We have done a lot of work there,”
Grace Birungi, Director of the National Curriculum Development Centre
“UBOS get their statistics from police, and as the ones who give them the numbers, I tell you that is not correct. The highest number of deaths in accidents we have recorded was in 2016 but when you add that, you cannot get that tally of yours….Accidents started increasing around 2000 but there we no boda bodas at that time, but there are reasons why accidents were happening at that time,” Stephen Kasiima, Police Director in charge Traffic and Road Safety
“Hitherto road safety was taught under Civic Education. That was replaced by the so called patriotism, but that should not be the case. Instead of bothering with the curriculum, we need to teach young people life skills and road safety and driving should be a part of that. You see driving on the roads is more about common sense, the innate and rational thinking than about what is in the statute books or in the curriculum,” Mathias Mpuuga, Masaka Municipality MP & Shadow Minister for Education.