Almost 1.2 million people in the world are killed each year and 20-50 million are injured or disabled. Out of these, 85 percent are from developing countries, but ¾ of these causalities is from the sub-Saharan region. Most people are unaware that road traffic injuries are a leading cause of disability. In Uganda recent statistics indicate that some 17,000 accidents are recorded yearly, up from 12,000 in 2000.Road accidents claim up to 2,000 lives annually. This is largely attributed to poor road designs, failure to observe traffic laws and general lack of information on how best people can use roads.
Accidents disproportionately affect the younger population in our societies, thereby negatively impacting on years of productive work.
Reports from Mulago Hospital alone indicate a great influx of boda boda accident victims. The boda boda phenomenon was a sudden birth of means of transport in Uganda that wasn’t planned for at all.
People have since embraced it as a quick means of transport, considering the traffic jams in the city. Some places are not easily accessible with a taxi, so boda boda becomes an inevitable alternative. With no training at all, these guys are ready to take any chances to arrive at their destination.
This kind of situation requires scientific solutions not blaming different parties/stakeholders. We must appreciate that road traffic safety is a challenge world over but more of a disaster in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Researchers have indicated the 3 E’s (Engineering, Enforcement and Education) as the most effective and legitimate measures to deal with the problem. Our road designs are still lacking with no adequate facilities for all road users, no separation of traffic, and without the necessary traffic calming measures. This makes the Engineering part lacking. Road infrastructure improvements and the introduction of procedures can make a remarkable contribution towards reducing the consequences and seriousness of road accidents. By giving roads an explicit configuration, designers can influence road user behaviour.
Roads that are self-explaining and easy to use improve driver behaviour. The creation of a forgiving environment, e.g. side barrier, is also significant in reducing serious injuries.
There is always need to carry out a systematic safety impact assessment, especially on newly built roads, but also on the already existing ones. This calls for an effective road safety audit department.
Education, sensitisation/awareness campaigns about the consequences of not complying with road safety regulations is a vital component as it will influence road user behaviour and change people’s attitudes.
Driving licence legislation is very important as it facilitates people’s freedom of movement and permits targeted improvements in driver behaviour, in particular through driving tests to obtain a driving licence. The minimum requirements for this have to be made much more stringent.
Uganda today has to inevitably rely heavily on the third E - Enforcement as an immediate and much more effective measure. Thanks to the Police Force that has beefed up enforcement by introducing more traffic officers, especially in Kampala City, although some of these young ladies look too polite to battle it out with some of the notorious taxi drivers. The [traffic officers need] to get tough on over-speeding on highways, strongly penalise those who overtake dangerously, and decisively deal with DMCs to reduce the carnage.
It’s also important to take note of the most important and missing link here, i.e. political will. A vivid example is the former French President Jacques Chirac who clearly stated in his manifesto that he was going to ensure accident reduction during his term of office. His efforts realised a 40% decline in accidents in France.
Some African countries like Ghana, Botswana and Nigeria are registering tremendous improvement in road safety mainly because of the extent to which top politicians have prioritised this.
This reminds me of Uganda’s success on HIV/AIDS. The world now knows that it was basically because of President Museveni’s initiative and this has in fact collected the big man tremendous awards and international recognition. These efforts brought down the prevalence rate.
If the President takes a lead on this, we shall definitely see many changes.
Road accidents will be the third leading cause of death by 2020, according to the World Health Organisation, if business remains as usual. Efforts to deal with the phenomenon have to be stepped up.
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