The Covid-19 pandemic has driven public attention away from other legislations that have been passed by parliament.
Most of the effort and focus seems to have been on combating the disease and its effects on the economy and the social sector, and rightly so.
However, I want to drive public attention to the Traffic and Road Safety Act, to which President Museveni assented in May 2020.
This legislation is borne out of parliament’s protracted concern about the increasing deaths and injuries due to road traffic accidents, and this law attempts to address the underlying causes to bring an end to the carnage on our roads.
This Act has strengthened the legal regime relating to transport regulation by abolishing the Transport Licensing Board and the National Road Safety Council, to centralize issues relating to transport and leave it to the hands of the police for certainty of responsibility.
The loss of lives on our roads is a daily fodder on our national conversation, mainly caused by reckless driving and unlicensed drivers. The culprits were clearly relaxed because they knew the sanction for their criminality was lenient, but not anymore.
To curb the increasing recklessness caused by drunk drivers, for instance, the law prescribes harsher punishments for those found guilty. A fine of up to Shs 6 million or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both now await such offenders.
The same punishment applies to drivers found under the influence of drugs which are prescribed in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act and the National Drug Policy and Authority Act.
Causing injury through reckless driving, according to Section 108, will now attract, on conviction, a prison term not exceeding 10 years.
A driver who causes bodily injury under section 108 will now face a fine not exceeding Shs 2 million or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both.
The Act has also defined in no uncertain terms what exactly constitutes reckless driving, and has broadened the definition to include driving over the speed limit, failing to use signals, disobeying traffic signs and signals, drifting into other lanes, distracted driving, using a handheld mobile phone while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and failing to stop at a designated or pedestrian crossing.
A new flexibility for drivers has also been placed within the new law, and parliament has now discarded the strict requirement to produce a driving license on the spot or within 48 hours. The new amendment now extends the timeframe to produce the license to 72 hours. You will now have to carry a copy of your logbook.
Section 35(1) of the Act states that, “a person shall not drive any class of motor vehicle, trailer or engineering plant on a road unless he or she is in possession of a copy of a valid driving licence or a copy of a valid learner’s driving licence in respect of that group of motor vehicle, trailer or plant.”
Subsection (2) prescribes that, ‘whenever required by a police officer, a person shall provide the original copy of the driving licence or learner driving licence referred to in (1) within 72 hours”.
Section 146 of the Act also gives powers to a police officer in uniform to demand for an original driving licence for examination within 72 hours.
For the registration book, the requirement has been extended to 160 hours, having in mind the complexities surrounding producing a logbook in an instant.
In relation to driving licences, there have been complaints from drivers on the validity of driving licences. The amendment Act now provides for a valid period of 12 months, three years or five years from the date of issuance.
The catch, however, is on the renewal process. Should a driver fail to renew their driving licence within two years from the date of expiry, the law prescribes that that driver, ‘shall on application for renewal undergo theory and practical tests before the license can be renewed’.
Public transport service providers will now be required to form associations/companies, partnerships or be members of Saccos in order to qualify for licences under this Act.
Under this same provision, the minister may, by regulations, require public service providers to make provisions for persons with disabilities.
The law also provides for licensing of driving schools and instructors to provide for a graduated driver licensing system; licensing and regulation of a special category of transport network companies using online digital platforms for provision of passenger and goods and also licensing of mechanics and ensure that the garages are approved places of business.
Where a motor vehicle is owned by more than one person, the law provides for registration of all the owners in the log book unlike the past where it catered for only one individual.
As the country grapples with the current Covid-19 situation, the road users and implementers of this law need to get versed with it, and not be caught by surprise when the provisions start being put into use.
We can only hope that these new measures will go a long way in enforcing road discipline and reducing the accidents on the Ugandan roads.
It goes without saying, also, that the ultimate responsibility for making yourself and others safe on the road remains squarely on your shoulders. Parliament has played its part; it’s now over to you.
The author is a senior information officer, Parliament of Uganda.