How traffic offences are burning a hole in your pocket

What you need to know:

In total, police raked in Shs38.5b, which accounts for 3.2 percent of the force’s Shs840b budget. Put into perspective, the value of penalty tickets issued would comfortably pay salary for the 527 MPs for two months.

Ugandans continue to live on the grim lane of life every time they step into traffic, the Police Crime Report 2022 shows, with 22 people killed per 100 road crashes, or at least four persons per crash.

There were 21,473 casualties from road crashes between January and December last year, with 15,227 sustaining serious injuries, meaning they needed costly treatment that when taken to public hospitals,  it takes the taxpayer back by thousands of shillings per day. On average, post-accident surgeries for fractures, bleeding in the brain, dental repairs and spinal cord injuries cost Shs1.5m, exclusive of attendant costs.

In 2018, the United Nations Road Safety Performance Review Report put the annual cost of road crashes in Uganda at Shs4.4 trillion; five percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The shade on the figure has been getting darker each year, meaning the estimate is alarmingly higher today.

“There was a shocking percent increase in the total number of persons that died as a result of road crashes from 4,159 in 2021 to 4,534 last year,” the crime report states.

Activists in the pedal cycling arena will be relieved that their road safety campaign that has seen several bicycle lanes demarcated in some cities, including Kampala, is paying off. The number of victims of pedal cycle crashes reduced by 24 persons from last year. However, 1,404 boda boda riders perished last year, up from 1,390 in 2021, while at least 24 more boda boda passengers were killed than the 528 in 2021.

The problem with boda bodas, the report notes, is that their behaviour is not about to change. There were 1,111 more cases of pillioning (carrying more than one passenger) than the 7,795 recorded in 2021. And despite reminders that helmets save lives, they remain decoration items for most boda boda riders, with 31,041 cases registered last year, up from the 19,636 in 2021. These figures make a mockery of what everyone else sees on the road, daily.

At least 92,028 motorists, nearly twice as much as the 55,102 registered in 2021, were on the wrong side of the traffic law for driving a vehicle which is not in good condition, the highest of any traffic offences.

Bad attitude

According to the Traffic and Road Safety department, 12,440 of the 20,394 road crashes last year were caused by reckless driving, with the highest number of crashes recorded between 7pm and 8pm. December took the toll on Ugandans for both the number of crashes and fatalities registered.

“People use the road without respect for each other and without respecting the rules,” says Faridah Nampiima, the spokesperson for the Traffic and Road Safety department.

Counting the cost

The 2022 crime report shows a 35 percent increase in common traffic offences registered from 336,722 in 2021 to 456,993, a 16.9 percent jump. More traffic offences mean more activity for the cops in white, who issued tickets worth Shs3b for every month in 2022, except August and September that recorded 33,418 and 34,283 cases, respectively, both worth Shs2.9b.

In total, police raked in Shs38,585,200,000, which accounts for 3.2 percent of the force’s Shs840b budget.

Put into perspective, the value of the Express Penalty Scheme (EPS) tickets issued alone would comfortably pay salary for the 527 MPs for two months. The EPS scheme was introduced under Section 165 of the Traffic and Road Safety Act, 1998, to manage minor traffic offenders.

“The primary objective of the scheme was to deter road users from committing offences by levying express penalties that would help to decongest courts,” says police spokesperson Fred Enanga.

The EPS ticket has 25 codes for traffic offences, whose fines vary, depending on the traffic offence committed. The fines range from Shs20,000 for offences such as not wearing a seatbelt, to Shs200,000 for offences such as exceeding the prescribed speed limit.

An offender has to pay up within 28 days or be slapped with a 50 percent surcharge of the value of the penalty. However, one can challenge EPS in a court of law.

Boda bodas still deadly

According to the 2022 crime report, of the five most dangerous offences, only driving under the influence of alcohol saw a drop in offences compared to 2021.

Only 124 cases, worth Shs24.5m, were recorded compared to 193 the previous year. The figures, for the last two years, are both low for a country with one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the region. Or perhaps motorists under the influence are more susceptible to bribery, leaving only a few incurring EPS. However, police would argue that their campaigns such as Kawunyemu that has been running occasionally since 2014 pays off. The campaign is one of the ways the traffic police has been vigilant in the fight against drunk-driving.

Driving under the influence of alcohol attracts a penalty of between Shs300,000 and Shs1.2m or imprisonment of between six months and two years, Rogers Kawuma Nsereko, the Kampala Metropolitan traffic commander, told Daily Monitor last year.

Police issued tickets worth Shs5.5b for driving a dangerous mechanical condition vehicle (DMC). From worn-out tyres to dead head lamps or hazard lights and dysfunctional wipers, a DMC can be a lot. There were 78,693 cases of careless, reckless or inconsiderate driving registered, worth Shs7.8b, and 20,416 cases of speeding for which police received Shs4b in value of EPS tickets.

There were some 3,000 more people found in the dangerous habit of using handheld mobile phones while driving last year compared to the 6,767 in 2021. The offence took the culprits back by Shs100,000 each.

The least of the 25 offences was failure to stop at a railway crossing, one of the riskiest and most reckless traffic breaches in a country with no infrastructure such as automatic road blocking apparatus at railway crossings.

Only six cases were recorded last year, as it was in 2021. But one of the cases gripped the nation in July last year.

Caroline Aturinda, Norbert Tizikara, and Ann Kabaaya were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was dragged for more than 70 metres by a speeding train at 3.30am at the Nakawa-Kinawataka railway crossing.

November 21, the international Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, is one of the global observance days least known to many, but like the three train crush victims, becoming a number on the statistics for the day is a split-second affair. The month of December registered the highest number of crashes (2,013) with the highest fatality of 470, while July showed the lowest number of crashes (1,532).

Strategies to reduce road crashes

Omongo Ndugu, the executive director Uganda Professional Drivers’ Network, believes that since 61 percent of road crashes are a result of careless and reckless driving, the government should consider investing in a centralised database of practicing operators, regulating driver training schools, drivers, and their standards.

Driver training in Uganda and its regulations was declared dysfunctional by the United nations Road safety review report 2018.

“Giving the example of truck drivers, for example, a recent report indicated that 97.62 percent are trained informally, that is from washing bays, mechanics and turn men and only 0.25 percent went for training in formal driver training schools,” Ndugu said in an opinion article published by Daily Monitor.

While formal training is lacking, more and more persons are acquiring driving permits and getting on the road.

Police say they intend to raise the level of reinforcement of traffic laws and regulations through targeted operations mainly focusing on boda bodas and major risk factors such as speed, driving under influence of alcohol/drugs, seatbelt use and distracted driving. They also plan to fast-track automation of vehicle inspection processes to reduce the number of DMCs on the road.

Speed limit design

While many might feel impatient with the 50km/h limit on a highway, there is a reason for it. From infrastructure to other road users, animals, among others.

According to the Institute for Transport Engineers, an international association of transportation professionals who work to improve mobility and safety for all transportation system users, design of the road indicates to the driver the speeds at which they “feel” safe driving.

There is the 85th Percentile Rule, which is the speed at or below which 85 percent of vehicles travel.