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Feature: Hit, kill and run - death trap on Uganda roads

Halima Nakabugo lies in Mulago Hospital’s Accidents and Emergency (AE) Ward 3C, fighting for her life.

A reckless driver of a Toyota Rav4,  registration number UAK 337U knocked her down on the Kampala-Masaka highway, stopped to check that she was dead and then drove off, leaving her hapless body by the roadside.

But Nakabugo had survived and good Samaritans rushed her, unconscious, to Masaka hospital before she was transferred to Mulago hospital because she was in critical condition and needed surgery. Her head and back were injured and her right leg broken. Police in Lukaya failed to trace the hit-and-run driver and could only add the vehicle to their wanted list.

Joining Nakabugo in Mulago were victims of another accident involving a passenger bus belonging to Kampala Coaches and a Kampala-bound truck carrying charcoal from Juba. Three people died in this accident on September 5 and 33 were critically injured.

The previous week, another 10 people had died in two separate road accidents: one on the Mbarara-Kabale road and another on the Mbarara-Ishaka road in western Uganda. Every day, another road user ends people’s lives or scars them for life.

Death traps

Kampala-Jinja, Kampala-Gulu, Kampala-Mbarara and the Northern Bypass roads have become death traps, killing 2,954 people last year. Lawrence Nuwabine, the Regional Traffic Officer in charge of Kampala Metropolitan, says because of the increased vigilance of police on Entebbe Road, drivers are now more cautious and careful, which has reduced accidents on this highway that was the most dangerous road in Kampala.

The 21-kilometre Northern Bypass has now assumed this reputation. Many of the accidents along the bypass are due to a combination of reckless drivers and careless use of the road by pedestrians and boda boda cyclists. Not only is the number of fatal road accidents increasing in Uganda, Nuwabine says that the number of hit-and-run cases is also on the rise.

According to the 2010 Police Crime Report released by the Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Kale Kayihura, in April 2011, at least one person dies in every seven accidents that occur in Uganda. In 2010, of the 12,152 accident cases recorded in Kampala alone, 1,489 were hit-and-run cases that ended in death or injury. Kampala records the highest number of accidents compared to other regions.

Of the 756 people who died on spot in 2010, 330 were boda boda passengers or cyclists. Victims of boda boda accidents occupy half of the beds in the accidents ward at Mulago. Everyday, the hospital’s congested emergency ward receives about 30 accident victims. The number usually shoots up to 50 on Mondays, perhaps following a weekend of partying and subsequent recklessness.

Accidents currently account for the second leading cause of death in Uganda, after malaria.

Hit, kill and run

A new phenomenon seems to be catching on among drivers who run over people. In the case of an accident, many ensure they have killed, rather than merely injured the victim because, according to common argument, it is more costly and time consuming to deal with an injured person than in cases where the victim has died.

In mid-August, a man crossing Bombo road around Watoto church was hit by a bus, which reversed and crushed his chest as he struggled to crawl from the spot, killing him instantly. While Nuwabine says this amounts to murder, he says not many of such cases are reported to the police and few people are available or willing to testify, making it difficult to prove that it was a murder and not an accident.

Eyewitnesses at most accident scenes are difficult to trace, let alone convince to testify in court.

“When you knock someone who is carelessly crossing the road, you have no case to answer. But if investigations reveal that you were in the wrong, then we take you to the magistrate’s court which passes a sentence according to the Traffic Control and Road Safety Act. We have charged some people with murder and it was reduced to manslaughter,” Nuwabine says.

Section 108 of the Traffic Control and Road Safety Act states that a driver who causes an accident commits an offence and can be imprisoned for two years or fined between Shs 1.5 million and Shs 4 million in court.

The court which convicts a person may award to any person injured by the offence or the dependant of any person whose death arises out of the commission of the offence, compensation not exceeding 50% of any fine paid by the convicted person in respect of the offence.

The Acts states that in the case of an accident, arising directly or indirectly from the use of a motor vehicle, it is the driver’s duty to render all practicable assistance to the injured person. The injured person or the dead victim’s family can then file a civil suit for compensation for injury or loss of life.

But, according to Nuwabine, “people lack legal knowledge and do not pursue civil matters, which sometimes require lawyers.”

Hurting the economy

Road accidents and the resultant injuries and fatalities have been on the rise for the last 10 years. In 2000, there were 14,390 reported accidents, compared to 22,461 a decade later, according to last year’s police records. The Injury Control Centre Uganda (ICCU) estimates that road accidents cost about 2.7% of the country’s GDP in terms of lives, injury, vehicle loss and other property lost.

Nuwabine says the rapid motorisation in Uganda has increased the volume of vehicles moving on the country‘s single-lane roads, yet roads have not been improved and widened from those built in the colonial days. According to records at the Uganda Revenue Authority, more than 3,000 vehicles enter the country every month, compared to around 20 for the same period in 1962. There are currently 800,000 vehicles in Uganda.

Even worse, Uganda’s traffic is not segregated. Lorries, trailers, buses, commuter minibuses, saloon cars, motorbikes, bicycles, wheelbarrows and pedestrians use the same narrow roads. Nuwabine says the ideal would be to create sidewalks for pedestrians and specific lanes for cyclists, and restrict the presence of heavy trucks and buses in the city centre, to reduce urban accidents.

George Agaba, Kampala Capital City Authority deputy director for physical planning, has promised a ban on buses and trucks from accessing the central business district starting October 2011, in a bid to ease traffic in Kampala.

Human error

Human error accounts for about 80% of road traffic accidents in the country, according to the Uganda National Road Safety Authority. This includes reckless driving, overspeeding, inconsiderate use of the road, careless or ignorant pedestrians, incompetent drivers and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The prescribed speed limit for buses and trucks is 80 kilometres per hour and for other vehicles, 100 kilometres per hour.

Reckless bus drivers claim more lives on highways because many drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs and fatigue, and sometimes overtake a stretch of cars at black spots, in dangerous corners and on slopes.

Nuwabine says installation of speed governors in vehicles and use of helmets by boda boda cyclists and their passengers would curb accidents in the case of vehicles and reduce on injuries and death, in the latter case, but politicians have frustrated efforts by the police to enforce these measures.

“Politicians are the ones who own buses; they frustrated us [when we tried to insist] on speed governors and helmets,” Nuwabine says.

In addition to human error, there are many incompetent drivers in the country, with little or no knowledge of the Highway Code. In 2008, the ministry of Works and Transport and that of Education and Sports introduced road safety education to the primary school curriculum.

Government also created the National Road Safety Authority to implement the new syllabus for drivers, in a bid to produce competent drivers and regulate operations of driving schools, but poor funding has hampered the Authority’s work.

Fraud is also partly to blame for accidents. The number of incompetent drivers who obtain forged driving permits from Nasser road is said to be rising.

“There must be a high-tech mechanism of detecting forgery, but we don’t have it, which makes traffic police work difficult. The greatest potential for reducing accidents lies in influencing road users to act more responsibly,” Kayihura says.

Accident statistics

  • Fatal accidents that ended in death rose by one percentage point from 2,388 in 2009 to 2,620 in 2010.
  • The total number of accidents reduced from 22,699 in 2009 to 22,461 in 2010 due to a decline in minor accidents. This number is thrice higher than Kenya’s 7, 895 accidents registered in 2010, yet Kenya’s vehicle and human population are much higher than Uganda’s.
  • Nine people die in road accidents per 100,000 of the population per year in Uganda, compared to 23 per 100,000 in South Africa.
  • There are more accidents in December because of the festive season and increased traffic on the highways.
  • Karamoja region registers the lowest number of accidents compared to Kampala, which has the highest, because of the limited number of vehicles in Karamoja.
  • More men die in road accidents in Uganda accounting for 68% of all accident victims because majority of motor vehicle drivers, motorcyclists and pedal cyclists are male.
  • Police collected Shs 6.79 billion in fines in 2010, while Shs 5.2 billion has since not been paid by people who have been fined and issued tickets.

smwesigye@observer.ug

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