The daily monitor of Tuesday 19th August 2014 reported a grisly road traffic ‘accident’ in which seven were killed and twenty injured when two speeding buses collided along Kampala-Gulu High way. The regional police spokesman attributed the cause of this incident to speeding. This is just one of the numerous ‘accidents’ reported on the media which is always awash with deaths, injuries and property destroyed or damaged due to events taking place on our roads.
The key question here is was this event an accident or a crash? According to the oxford dictionary, an accident by definition is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly, and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. The dictionary further defines an accident as an event that happens by chance or is without apparent or deliberate cause. Can we classify the road carnage on our Uganda roads as ‘accidents’? I think not! For starters, we know what the underlying causes are, and that they can be remedied to prevent further deaths and injuries from happening. The Uganda Annual Crime and Traffic Road Safety Police Report for 2013 lists the major causes of road traffic crashes classified as human factors, road condition, weather condition and vehicle condition. These altogether include the following; reckless driving, over speeding, overloading, dangerous loading, driving under the influence of alcohol, careless pedestrians, potholes, dusty roads, muddy wet roads, rain and cloudy conditions, brake failure, tire blow outs, and headlight failure to mention but a few.Except for the weather conditions, all the other major causes of road traffic crashes are modifiable and can be enhanced to mitigate the road carnage.
With the underlying causes and remedial action known to us, this renders the ‘accidents’ predictable and preventable and as thus, we cannot continue to mislabel these events as ‘accidents’. Rather than use the term ‘accident’ while reporting such events, the term road traffic crash is preferable. A road traffic crash is defined as the collision on a road of a motor vehicle, motorcycle or bicycle with another, a stationary object or person, resulting in injuries, death or loss or property. And since we know the causes of such crashes, and what is needed to remedy them, it puts in a direction where we are able to take action. On the other hand, the continued use of the term ‘accidents’ if applied to preventable crashes will paint the image that nothing can be done about it and this would just contribute to the escalating road carnage.
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted the Resolution 68/269 on Improving Global Road Safety through a Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020. This is aimed at saving up to 5 million lives and preventing 50 million serious injuries over the decade. The World Health Organisation has identified five major risk factors for road traffic deaths and injuries as speed, drink-driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints and recommends that governments set and enforce traffic laws relating to the risks, as well as raising public awareness. The Uganda traffic police last year registered a 7.6% decrease in the total number of fatal and serious accidents the highest decrease recorded in the last 11 years and they should be commended for their dedicated enforcement of the traffic laws. The press needs to toe the line first by clearly reporting on the crashes during their duty to inform and report, as this plays a huge role in creating awareness about the road carnage on our roads, and creating public demand for action to promote and ensure road safety. This begins by categorizing ‘accidents’ as crashes, unless proven otherwise.
The writer is a MakSPH-JHU injury research fellow