Invest more in road safety

Author, Jackie Okao. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Licences get suspended and after a short while the buses come back on the road and we see other crashes again, the cycle continues as more lives are lost. 

Iwas at the funeral service of Morris Okumu, a 42-year-old pharmacist who perished in a road crash on May 1 because he hadn’t fastened his seatbelt, when I learnt that a bus carrying more than 65 people crashed in Sebotili tea estate on the Fort portal Mubende road, killing 21 people. 

A few hours later, another crash was reported with seven people dead and many others seriously injured in Mbale, and another in Rukungiri with one person reported dead.  This is not the first time we get such news.

One must then ask: When will this come to an end, what needs to happen to avoid this loss of life? Uganda loses 10 people every day as a result of road crashes! Sixty percent of these are young people in their most productive age, just like Dr Morris Okumu. Two  weeks ago, the Uganda Police reported 387 crashes that resulted in more than 60 deaths. Last week in only one day we lost 26 people, with many others still hospitalised.

With children reporting back to school this week, and the daily commutes for the day scholars also starting, I don’t want to even imagine what will happen with so many travelling from one end of the country to another.
Uganda also loses Shs4.4 trillion annually as a result of these road crashes. This represents five percent of our national Gross Domestic Product. The Ministry of Works and Transport has been working tirelessly to develop and update regulations to implement the recently amended Traffic and Road Safety Act 2020. 

A very comprehensive National Road Safety Action Plan is being developed to come up with a series of interventions that different duty bearers will be undertaking in the next five years to improve the road safety situation in the country. Uganda’s strong laws and policies must also translate into strong enforcement and implementation. The public must also become more aware of the laws and policies that are designed to save lives. 

The Ministry has suspended the Link bus company licence as a result of the May 4 crash, but this is not the first time this is being done to a bus company. Besides, there is a big unmet demand for public transport, so the Link buses being off the road poses yet another big problem in the transport sector — especially at this time when children are reporting back to school.

Licences get suspended and after a short while the buses come back on the road and we see other crashes again, the cycle continues as more lives are lost. We have had several investigations into different crashes done and reports produced but we continue to see more lives lost.

There is a general belief that our narrow roads and potholes are the major causes of the crashes. However, we have seen more crashes happen on the Entebbe expressway and other very well paved roads, which are wide with no pot holes. While these may contribute to crashes, our own behaviors on the road form the biggest risks. 
Not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet, speeding or driving above the recommended speed limits and not having children well protected in car seats are the major reasons for these fatalities. Many drivers do not know what is required of them while on the roads and hence the need for more individuals, journalists and policy makers to speak out about the need for these policies.

Enforcers should be equipped with more speed guns to ensure offenders are instantly penalized. Paying the Shs200,000 is painful enough that one will think twice before they commit the same offence. The Express Penalty scheme is a strong piece of regulation that should be adequately used. We have enough Police officers, deploy as many as possible on the road and have the senior officers follow-up with stick supervision. supervisors should also closely monitor the operations of the traffic officers to minimize issues of corruption. 

We have almost every Member of Parliament purchasing ambulances for their constituencies - whether they are supposed to actually purchase these or ensure the government equips every health centre with ambulances is a story for another day, but how are these being used? Effective post-crash response is key in saving lives because it enables victims access medical care in time.

All these however cannot be achieved without putting in adequate resources. The investment in these policies and enforcement will be a clear indication of the government’s commitment to addressing road safety issues in the country.
Uganda must continue its fight for safer roads and cars. If we continue to observe a moment of silence for every crash victim, we are choosing to live in the quiet.

Ms Jackie Okao is a farmer and policy advocacy specialist