What causes a road crash?

First responders and relatives at the crash scene trying to find survivors of the bus accident that left 20 people killed on the spot after it overturned at Ssebitoli in Kabarole District on May 3, 2022. PHOTOS/ ALEX ASHABA

What you need to know:

According to preliminary findings recently published in a story by this newspaper, the bus driver, who was speeding on a slope, lost control after overtaking a trailer while rounding a bend

Government’s decision to ground 90 buses belonging to Link Bus Company follows a series of road crashes. On May 4, 20 people were confirmed dead after a Link bus overturned several times at Ssebitoli on Fort Portal-Kyenjojo Road in western Uganda. According to the traffic directorate spokesperson Faridah Nampiima, these included 13 adults and seven juveniles.

According to preliminary findings recently published in a story by this newspaper, the bus driver, who was speeding on a slope, lost control after overtaking a trailer while rounding a bend. 

On the same day, six people were confirmed dead, and others seriously injured in a three-car crash on Mbale-Tirinyi highway. The crash occurred at Mailo tano, approximately four kilometres from Mbale City as a Kampala bound commuter taxi overtook another and collided with a Toyota Raum. Traffic police attributed the crash to reckless driving and failure to observe traffic guidelines.

Human error

Nampiima says human error accounts for the biggest percentage of road crashes. This includes disrespect of road signage, drink-driving, phone or distracted driving, driving dangerous mechanical condition vehicles (DMCs), driving when fatigued, reckless driving and incompetent drivers.

According to the Uganda Police Force website, from April 24 to May 2, a total of 9,679 traffic offenders were arrested at various check points in the country. These included 1,709 for reckless driving, 2,089 for dangerous mechanical condition vehicles, 837 for invalid driving license, 446 for speeding, 760 for not wearing seatbelts, 760 riding motorcycles without a crash helmet, 606 for carrying more than one passenger on the motorcycle and 144 others.

Road crashes are rarely caused by a single factor, which makes road safety a shared responsibility. Jemima Nalumansi, the initiative coordinator for Kampala at the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, says speeding leads to reduced reaction time and, therefore, reduced opportunity to avoid a crash.

“When speeding, there will be less or no time to react to potential hazards. There will not only be loss of friction between tyres and the road but also loss of stability when negotiating bends and braking. It will also cause other road users to misjudge gaps,” Nalumansi explains.

A June 21, 2021 World Health Organisation fact sheet on road traffic injuries states that an increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash.

“Every one percent increase in mean speed produces a four percent increase in the fatal crash risk and a three percent increase in serious crash risk. The death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly to 4.5 times from 50km/h to 65km/h. In car to car side impacts, the fatality risk for car occupants is 85 percent at 65km/h,” the fact sheet partly reads. 

Road sign theft

The aim of using road signs is to guide drivers on how to use the road safely. It also helps warn road users/drivers of impending danger on the road. Unfortunately, increased theft of these signs makes it hard for motorists, especially those unfamiliar with a certain road to identify sections that have, for example, road humps or sharp corners.

According to section 48 of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) Regulations 2017, once found guilty of stealing road signs, when arraigned before court, you will either be imprisoned for two to seven years or pay a fine between 200-400 currency points, which is approximately Shs4m to Shs7m or serve both punishments, on top of reinstating the stolen sign posts.

DMCs

Dangerous mechanical condition (DMCs) vehicles, Nampiima explains, include vehicles that run out of fuel in the middle of the road, those with defunct indicators, brakes and headlights, treadles tyres and worn out wipers that cannot clear the windscreen when it is raining, among others.

Road design

Norman Byamukama, a road safety engineer at UNRA, says road curves are designed to be negotiated at certain speeds and that each road has its prescribed design speed. If you negotiate a corner above the prescribed speed, which is always marked on a road sign, you risk causing a crash.

“Some road sections have metallic guardrails. If you make a mistake, your vehicle is protected from overturning. However, these guardrails are sometimes knocked down, which indicates that one was driving above the recommended speed,” Byamukama says. 

Road width

Byamukama clarifies that standard road width is based on the road’s design class. For instance, the width of national roads that connect districts and international borders is 3.5 metres for the outgoing and oncoming lanes while there are some that measure three metres on either lanes.   One should also consider natural factors such as rain and fog or anything that affects proper road visibility.

Possible solutions

Nampiima says a system electronically monitored by traffic police, Ministry of Works and Transport and Uganda Driving License Systems (UDLS) should be put in place to monitor whoever qualifies to operate a vehicle.

“When one joins driving school, all agencies should be aware of this. After leaving driving school with a certificate, one should be tested at the inspectorate of vehicle where the system is able to capture the days you spent learning to drive. This in the end qualifies you for a professional driving license at UDLS,” Nampiima says, adding that if someone is arraigned before court for being a habitual traffic offender, court should cancel their driving license, which will motivate other drivers to maintain discipline on the road,” Nampiima adds. 

Emergency response

According to Nampiima, there should also be a standard emergency response unit to road crashes, with at least two ambulances on every major highway. If attended to on time, she says, many people will be given a chance at surviving the injuries sustained during a crash.

Statistics 

According to the Uganda Police website, from February 28 to March 6, police registered 414 crashes. Of these, 75 accidents were fatal, 226 were serious and 113 were minor. There were 404 crash victims, out of which 89 people died and 315 sustained injuries.

The portal also states that from April 24 2022 to April 30 2022, police registered 387 crashes, out of which 60 were fatal, 213 were serious and 114 were minor. There were 341 crash victims, out of which 67 died and 274 sustained injuries. A total of 119 crashes occurred on May 1 2022 and May 2 2022 and out of these, 21 crashes were fatal, 62 were serious and 36 were minor.

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