Lessons from Baltimore, Maryland: Enforce Right of Way to save pedestrian lives.

For the just ended months of June and July, I was privileged to spend six weeks attending a summer training program organized by the International Injury Research unit and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland. Beyond my academic and field training, it was a welcome relief to experience road safety in a developed country, of which Uganda is yet to achieve.

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Figure 1: The writer stands below a walk bridge. Next is a traffic signal with instructions for pedestrians and 3rd, a road with pedestrian crossings and traffic lights

To put it better, imagine a world without the infamous boda-boda motorcycles to worry about, with paved and marked streets and pedestrian walkways to separate pedestrians from motorized traffic, and pedestrian crossings combined with traffic lights at just about every intersection and T-junction to signal coordinated movement for all the road users! PS: Kampala has just a handful of traffic lights, with some of them not functioning.

On my return to my beloved Uganda, I was just in time for the release/launch of the Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety Report 2012. According to this police report, Uganda had 19,870 accidents in the year ending 2012. Road accidents claimed 3,000 lives in 2012. The report adds that another 13,137 people received permanent bodily deformities like loss of legs and arms while another 1,755 people received minor injuries.Pedestrians were the most affected group of road users, with 1,243 pedestrians killed and scores injured. Human error continues to be account for the leading cause and contributor to these accidents, especially drinking and driving, over speeding and reckless driving, all of which increase the pedestrian risk of being crashed.

The World Health Organization Global Road Safety report 2013 shows that 27% of global road traffic deaths are among pedestrians and cyclists. The risk of dying as a result of road traffic injuries is highest in the African Region (24.1 per 100 000 population), with 38 per cent of all road traffic accidents occurring among pedestrians. Walking and cycling are important forms of mobility for a large proportion of Africa and Uganda, making pedestrians very vulnerable. To date, these road users have been neglected in transport and planning policy. The world must now increase its focus on making walking and cycling safer, and protecting these road users from high-speed traffic.

 

Part of this includes the recognition of right of way among all road users. The traffic laws usually states that the pedestrian has the right of way when crossing, and that vehicles must stop when a pedestrian uses the crossing. Right-of-way helps drivers to decide who goes first at an intersection, and this can be best achieved by installing traffic lights to guide drivers when joining or cruising through intersections and T-junctions.

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Figure 2: Namirembe road, Kampala Capital City. Poorly constructed road with unmarked lanes disrupt the smooth flow of traffic flow, with pedestrians forced into close proximity with motor vehicles.

Separation of different categories of road users is also required to minimize and reduce contact between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. This can be best achieved by constructing and marking lanes to segregate the pedestrians from cyclists and motorists. Such organization is urgently needed because it produces a better combination of travel safety for all users, and by reducing the risk of contact between pedestrians and cyclists versus motorists, this will lead to a marked reduction in road crashes and the resultant injuries, deformities and disabilities.

 

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Figure 3 Pedestrians, Motorcycles and Motor vehicles struggling for space on a major road, which increases the risk of collision

In the absence of marked lanes and traffic signals, the result is uncontrolled traffic with all road users jostling for space, and this contributes to the high road crashes and injuries.The road authorities therefore need to come to the rescue of the pedestrians and cyclists by clearly marking lanes to reduce obstruction and proximity and hence make roads safe for all road users. Suffice to say, these are marked lanes and traffic lights are cheap and long-lasting technologies that should ideally be part and parcel of the design of every tarmacked road in the country!Uganda is a signatory to the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 that aims to reduce global road fatalities by 2020, and ensuring pedestrian safety is one key issue to address if we are to achieve this goal.

# Published in the Daily Monitor as http://www.monitor.co.ug/OpEd/Commentary/Create+lanes+on+our+roads/-/689364/1970850/-/vchcxrz/-/index.html

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