Prayer is not a solution to every problem; what we need is new ideas to curb road accidents.
There is still no report on how God answered our prayers. The carnage on our roads has become one of the leading causes of deaths in Uganda. Motor vehicle accidents don’t just happen but they are caused. Sometimes they are caused by a vehicle’s mechanical problems. However, a high proportion of accidents are directly blameable on human factors.
In the recent accident that took place at Katosi village in Kiganda town council along Kampala-Mubende highway, a bus [registration number UBF 764A] carrying passengers to Kasese collided head-on with a salon car [registration number UAW424F] that was heading to Kampala. Eyewitness said the poor state of the road at the scene of the accident could have caused it.
Between 2015 and 2017, more than 9,500 people died in road accidents in Uganda, according to the ministry of Works and Transport. Unfortunately, the situation worsens every year.
Despite occasional outrage, little seems to be done to ensure safety on Ugandan roads. What are the causes and what can be done? It must be acknowledged that the clearest example includes drunken drivers, intoxication with drugs and alcohol, speeding and fatigue. Drink-driving cases usually increase during the festive season.
How can one explain the comparative tolerance of speeding and drunkenness by drivers and, in some cases, by passengers? Recently while travelling by taxi, I questioned a speeding driver on the Kampala-Mityana road.
I was shocked at the deadly silence maintained by the passengers in the face of an obvious display of dangerous driving and, more surprising, was the reaction of fellow travellers when I became more inquisitive.
Some passengers retorted: “Who do you think you are?”
Since the driving did not improve, I had no choice but to get off at the next town. I was delayed but at least I got to my destination without being involved in an accident. Other factors affecting road safety include the road system, driver training and licensing, pedestrian awareness and physical disabilities such as poor eyesight of drivers.
Sometimes, road-construction equipment is left on roads and trenches are left uncovered or without warning signs. Road signs, on the very few occasions they are present, are often unhelpful if not deceptive. Some of the new roads are poorly built and soon lapse into disrepair, posing danger to road users.
The whole driver-licensing system in Uganda needs a complete overhaul. There are too many unlicensed/unqualified drivers with little or no knowledge of road rules. Some people even get their licences without having taken that flawed driving test. This means the wrong people are acquiring licences for which they are not qualified to hold.
There are a number of drivers on our roads with very poor eyesight or an insufficient field of vision, especially for night driving, and there is no mechanism to check this. The failure of users to comply with basic road safety legislation is another cause of accidents.
There is no use passing laws if they are not to be enforced. We might need to review existing legislation and put in place appropriate enforcement regimes. The police are very highly visible on Ugandan roads but unlike in most developed countries, their visibility is for the purpose of extorting money from drivers, not for enforcement of road rules.
It is time that poor visibility becomes a deterrent to speeding as is the case in many developed countries. The system will always present failures. Therefore, we need to change attitudes and behaviour of road users, pedestrians and drivers for the better.
Some time back, NTV reported that the Transport Licensing Board had directed government authorities to conduct inspections of roadworthiness on all public service vehicles at least twice a year. This came just after 28 people lost their lives in separate accidents along major highways in the country.
It’s like an airplane falling out of the sky every other day. If that actually happened, the whole system would be ground to a halt until the problem was fixed. We need to address this terrible problem with the same urgency. Unfortunately, pedestrian deaths—and all road fatalities—are viewed as an inevitable side effect of modern life.
In my view, we need a different approach to transportation planning, where road users are held responsible for their own safety. I believe that to save lives, our roads must anticipate driver, bicyclist, and walker errors, based on the simple fact that we are human and we make mistakes. One of the biggest problems is that the police focus more resources on street crime than on street safety.
The author is a private investigator and founder of Richards Private Investigations.