Make 2014 the stage for a safer road future in Uganda

Last year ended on a low note as a close friend of mine, Ritah, got involved in a nasty road crash in which the matatu taxi she was travelling had a head-on collusion with a boda boda motorcycle, killing the cyclist on spot. While she was lucky to survive with minor injuries, let us spare a thought for all those that died, got maimed, or suffered permanent disabilities in road traffic injuries in 2013.

Globally, there were 5.1 million deaths from injuries alone in 2010, more than the deaths from HIV-AIDS, TB and Malaria combined. 89% of these deaths occurred in low and medium income countries, that includes Uganda. Transport related injuries were the leading cause of the injury deaths, accounting for 1.4 million deaths. The resultant road traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death for young people aged 15–29. The fatality rates are high in Africa yet this region has the lowest motorization rates.

In 2013, Uganda developed a Comprehensive Road Safety Road Map to guide actions, investment and plans for reducing road traffic crashes in Uganda. This was in reaction to the increasing number of road traffic crashes, deaths and injuries on the Ugandan roads. The contributing factors to the high road carnage have been the increasing numbers of motor vehicles, human population, motorcyclists and an ill-equipped police force. Road deaths have risen from the 2000 mark in 2007 to over 3,000 in 2012. While the number of vehicles has risen from 360,000 in 2007 to 700,000 in 2012, the traffic department is still ill-equipped, with 1,700 personnel of which 800 are deployed in Kampala alone. The increasing motorization rates and low police presence spell a potential disaster for Uganda.

To understand the need for road safety interventions, you only need to know these numbers on Uganda from the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013;

  • 5th highest road traffic death rate in Africa
  • 28.9 road traffic death rate per 100 000 population
  • Less than 10 percent of seriously injured persons are transported by ambulance
  • At least 10 percent of persons injured on our roads are permanently

From the Uganda traffic police report for 2012

  • 19,870 crashes were reported
  • 3,124 persons died as a result of fatal accidents
  • 18,016 casualties from crashes on Ugandan roads
  • Pedestrians (27%) and motorcyclists (21%) were the most affected
  • Common causes of crashes: reckless driving, careless driving and careless pedestrians, over-speeding and drink driving

2014 offers us a new chapter. Considering that human factors accounted for 80.1% of the total causes of road accidents in 2013, emphasis should therefore be placed on tackling the human factors that lead to road traffic crashes. The best part about this is that we do not have to invent the wheel but rather, there are scientifically proven interventions that could help Uganda prevent the cancer of road traffic crashes, by enforcing legislation relating to important risk factors such as over speeding, drink–driving, motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, child restraints, strict enforcement of driving permit regulations to ensure that only certified fully trained drivers are on the road. Increased recruitment of traffic police will also increase the police presence on the road to keep the errant drives and motorcyclists within the confines of the law.

Public awareness campaigns are also required to promote road safety interventions, such as wearing helmets and seat-belts, and not drinking and driving. Imagine how safer our Uganda roads would be if all drivers were fully trained and were never drunk behind the wheel, everyone wore seat-belts and helmets, and never drove while distracted.

The start of a new year is the time when everyone looks ahead to a better future, and we can start 2014 by ensuring road safety so that we are not part of the causalities that die, get injured or are permanently disabled by easily preventable road traffic crashes. Following the recent inauguration of the transport licensing board and the national roads safety council with the mandate to reduce road carnage in Uganda, we can hope for the best in 2014. It is never too late to try and make a change, and that duty lies with every individual who is a road user.

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