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Why designating safe school zones is key

Road upgrades implementation and activities for school children during the road safety week in February 2024. PHOTO/starratingforschools.or

What you need to know:

School zone safety is crucial to protect children, reduce accidents, encourage active transportation, and foster a positive learning environment. It instills safe habits, improves parental peace of mind, and promotes community responsibility.

On May 25, civil society organisations working in the road safety sector met at Interservice Hotel in Nsambya, Kampala, to discuss and come up with views to incorporate in the safe school zones guidelines draft.

Some of the measures discussed, which will be incorporated in the safe school zones guidelines include setting and enforcing speed limits to 30km/hr, and educating parents and students about dangerous walking and driving habits such as using one’s mobile phone while driving.

Also, the importance of having traffic marshals along school zones such as Lugogo Bypass in Kampala with schools such as Kololo Secondary School, Hungry Caterpillar, City High School, and Isbat University was emphasised as well as gazetting and cordoning off walkways for school children and accompanying of children to school by parents or caretakers and installing visible road signs and traffic lights. These guidelines come at a time when there has been an increase in pedestrian deaths, especially those aged between 12 and 19 years since 2013.

Led by the Ministry of Works and Transport with support from Hope for Victims of Traffic Accidents (HOVITA), the safe school zones guidelines draft was presented to the technical working team from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Education and Sports, Uganda National Roads Authority, Kampala Capital City Authority and the Ministry of Local Government, among others.

Why the guidelines?

According to previous Uganda Police annual crime reports, the trend of school-going children who have died and sustained serious injuries since 2019 is worrying. For example, the 2019 annual crime report shows that 607 children died in road crashes, with this number increasing to 628 in 2020. In 2021, when schools were partially reopened after the Covid-19-induced lockdown, Uganda registered 600 deaths of school-going children. And in 2022 shortly after the lockdown, the number of deaths increased to 650.

In 2023, the number of school children who died on the road due to crashes increased to 872. In just five years, the total number of school-going children who have died due to road crashes is 3,357. This implies that on average, Uganda has been losing 671 children in road crashes. This is also equivalent to losing a whole school of children, with an enrolment of more than 500 learners.

Serious injuries

While the number of school-going children who have died in road crashes is worrying, the number of those who have sustained serious injuries is more than double those who died in the same period. For example, in 2019, 1,146 children sustained serious injuries against 907 in 2020.

The number of those with serious injuries skyrocketed to 1,267 in 2021 but also worryingly, increased further to 1,583 in 2022 and was worse at 3,068 in 2023, all according to previous Uganda police annual crime reports, making a total of 7,971 serious injuries in only five years. This implies that four children get injured on the road every day and this translates to 1,594 who have been sustaining serious injuries every year for the last five years.

Micheal Kananura, the public relations officer of the traffic directorate, defines a serious injury as a situation where the victim sustains longer-term or permanent impairment, loss of body function, and long-term mental or behavioural disorder. To caretakers, serious injuries come with emotional, psychological, and financial challenges. 

Winstone Katushabe, the commissioner of transport regulation and safety at the Ministry of Works and Transport, says much as young people are the biggest population in the country, there has to be a protective mechanism, especially for those still going to school to enable them realise their full potential.

“For every child who dies on the road, it is a loss not only to the family but to the country. However, some of these children are killed by people in vehicles and motorcycles who should instead have protected them because some children walk to and from school. The safe school zones guidelines will, therefore, protect school children and whoever will violate these guidelines will face the tough arm of the law,” Katushabe says.

Mable Tomusange, a parent and road safety advocate, notes that much as the safe school zone guidelines are there to protect children, it does not mean that you (parent) should neglect your responsibility of ensuring your child reaches school safely to the government.

“There are parents who have the means and time to accompany their children to school but prefer to delegate their role to motorcyclists. There are experiences on the road a child will see but will not tell you, yet many of these endanger their lives. Some motorcyclists ride recklessly and some use drugs and alcohol. At the end of the day, it is the child’s life in danger. If you cannot afford a van to pick up and drop your child to school, sit with them on the motorcycle and ensure they reach and leave school safely,” Tomusange advises.

According to previous police annual crime reports, the number of people Uganda lost to road crashes had been stable at 10 per day. Unfortunately, lately, this number has increased to 13. This is a reminder that road safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Penalties

According to the Traffic and Road Safety (prescription of the speed limit) regulations, 2024 under sections 119A and 178 of the Traffic and Road Safety Act, Cap 361, a person who fails to comply with a speed limit prescribed under these regulations commits an offense and is liable, on conviction to a fine not exceeding 100 currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both. A currency point is valued at Shs20,000. 

Advise

What motorists must know

According to www.veolianorthamerica.com, parents and motorists have a responsibility to help ensure the safety of child pedestrians.

Because of their size, it is difficult for children to see motorists or for motorists to see them.

Drivers should observe speed limits at all times, but especially around children. When driving in school zones, near playgrounds, or in neighbourhoods where children might be playing, motorists should always expect a child to dart out into the roadway.

When turning left at a green light or making a right turn on red, drivers need to look for pedestrians as well as cars. Pedestrians always have the right of way in these situations.

Avoid using a mobile phone in and around school zones.  Children’s actions can be unpredictable.  If you are texting, talking, or making a call, it can affect your ability to react quickly.