Dear Mr. President, we still need the police to clamp down on drunk-driving!

The Observer newspaper of 19th April 2013 titled Museveni blasts police over drink driving reported that the president H.E. Yoweri Museveni had attacked the police force over its crack down on drink driving. This article added that the move against drunk-driving was hurting tax collections with industry stakeholders from brewers, nightclubs and bar owners also attacking the operations, after they watched their sales drop. Image Alcohol ranks high (6th position) in generating domestic revenue in Uganda, contributing about 10% of revenue and this has been reportedly to be steadily increasing since it is rooted in a very strong culture of alcohol acceptance.

This year, Uganda was recently ranked as the number one alcohol consuming country in Africa, and ranked 8th globally, according to a survey done by US broadcaster Cable News Network (CNN). While this benefits the economy in terms of taxes and revenue collected from the breweries and employment opportunities for alcohol-selling points, there are costly negative impacts as well on society. High alcohol consumption has been associated with increase in; HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted disease, poverty, domestic violence, and road traffic crashes.

Drunk driving alone is one of the major causes of road accidents in Kampala, with the 2011 Police statistics showing that fatal accidents constituted 8.5% of accidents that occurred between 11:00pm and 7:00am. The statistics also indicated that 26.4% of total accidents in Kampala Metropolitan area occurred between 11:00pm and 7:00am, times when the roads are most likely to be occupied by intoxicated and drunk drivers, motorcyclists revelers returning home from drinking. Image According to the 2011 Police Annual Traffic Report, careless driving was the most common single cause of fatal and serious injuries, giving rise to 38.9 percent of all accidents, while reckless driving, hit and run and careless pedestrians accounted to 29.3 percent, 8.2 percent and 5.1 percent respectively. This implies that human factors such as careless driving, reckless driving, over speeding, over loading, careless pedestrians, all under the influence of alcohol contributed to more than 80 percent of road accidents. Therefore in 2011, to curb drink driving, the Uganda Police Force bought breathalyzers as part of the operation to clamp down on drunk-driving.

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The World Health Organization reports that over 90 percent of countries have some kind of national drink-driving law, yet only 49 percent stipulate a legal requirement of the blood alcohol concentration limit. This is largely why we continue to have many accidents on Uganda roads which are ranked as some of the worst worldwide. In addition the maximum level of alcohol content recommended for safe driving by the Traffic Act is 0.8 mg\ml of blood which level’s among the highest in the world yet majority of the countries have reduced the legal limit to 0.5mg\ml of blood and Uganda should emulate their example to reduce the number of road carnage arising from drunken driving.

 

In the developed world, they also use breathalyzers and impose stricter fines and driving bans for drunk drivers. Therefore rather than criticize and admonish the police force for trying and carrying out their duty to ensure that the roads are safe from drunk drivers, we should be finding ways to ensure that the drunk-driving operation is very effective, while at the same time minimizing negative consequences on the economy and the citizens desire to drink!

 

Therefore, in order to address the problem of drunken driving, the numbers and use of breath-analyzers be increased; funds for sensitization about drunken drinking and accidents be increased; integrate alcohol education into the standard training manual/driving school syllabus; strengthen loopholes in the laws relating to drunken driving such as the Traffic and Road Safety Act and give strong penalties to offenders other than simple cautions; and lobby courts to convict those guilty of drunken driving.

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The maximum blood alcohol content limit of 0.8mg\ml should be lowered even further and the Police forces should be given unrestricted powers to breathe test, using breathalyzers.

 

Efforts to reduce drunken driving be supported by government and not led by alcohol industry and those existing be evaluated. Unrestricted powers to breath test, using breathalyzers of equivalent and agreed standard, should be implemented in countries with high rates of alcohol-related motor vehicle injuries.

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