Road fatalities are on the rise in Uganda again!

Uganda is ranked number eighteen on fatal road accidents in Africa. Road fatalities are on the rise in Uganda again from 2,845 people dying in 2014 to 3,503 in 2016. Traffic statistics for 2017 are yet to be released by police but early indications show that they could be as high as those of 2016. So what could be going wrong? FIKA SALAMA, a collaborative initiative between police and UNRA which was launched in 2016 has not reversed the trend. Masaka and Jinja Roads continue to be some of the most risky roads in the country. A recent documentary aired by NTV revealed that up to 18 people perish on Jinja road every month. It is almost the same number on Masaka road.

Developing countries tend to have more road deaths compared to their developed counterparts. Up to 90% of all world road death occur in developing countries with Africa accounting for the biggest number of these. The people that are most affected are the vulnerable road users who include pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. The risk factors associated with road crashes according to World Health Organization (WHO) are: over speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and other psychoactive substances, misuse of protective gear like helmets and seatbelts, distracted driving, unsafe road infrastructure, unsafe vehicles inadequate post-crash care, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws and regulations.

Uganda may not present the worst case scenario yet in terms of worst road crashes but could easily slide into a bad situation if the current rates of accidents continue increasing. Currently in Africa, countries with the highest record of  road accidents are Libya, Malawi,  Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda in that order. There is need for concerted efforts to reverse this worrying trend before Uganda catches on this debauched tendency. Given that about 1.2 Million people die in road accidents per year worldwide, it means that Uganda contributes 0.25% to this figure if we take an average of 3000 people dying on the roads in Uganda annually. This is a very high figure by any means and calls for worry. Remember, this number excludes those who are injured and maimed, some for life. According to police statistics up to 10,000 people are injured on our roads every year.  A good number have their dreams shattered as they can no longer walk or continue to be productive. It is again estimated that road crashes consume up to 2.7% of Uganda’s GDP. This translates into 2.24 Trillion of Uganda’s economy. This money includes the costs of motor vehicle repairs, cost of treating victims, cost of road furniture destroyed etc. This money is the total net equivalent budget that government allocated to the national roads agency (UNRA). And by the way, this roads agency is the largest national consumer of Uganda’s National budget. What this means is that our national budget is facing a constant annual hemorrhage through road accidents.  Of course it is insensitive to calculate the road crashes in terms of money lost. It is important to peg it to human lives that are lost annually because these are much more valuable than mere money. Three thousand people perishing on the roads should be treated as a national catastrophe and government needs to come up with strong mechanisms to address this worrying trend.

Continuous research has consistently indicated that the major cause of death is over speeding and reckless driving. In the case of Uganda, this is exacerbated by narrow roads with winding bends or corners that make them too dangerous to drive on. Western countries managed bring down road death numbers by deliberately constructing forgiving roads that can also give chance to reckless drivers. The mixed use of roads by different traffic modes is a recipe for disaster. Our roads, on top of being narrow, have a mixture of users including motorists, truck drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, Bodabodas and in some cases animals such as cows. All these compete for a small space on the road. Segregation of these modes to ensure that each mode has its own lane would go a long way to reduce the likely clash between these competing modes. Again, on highways, the roads agency needs to come up with new design rules of roads to minimize bends and sharp corners. Many accidents, normally occur on roads with corners because the drivers cannot see incoming objects. Furthermore Uganda needs to widen the roads especially those with high traffic volumes by making them dual carriage ways to allow for motor vehicles moving in different directions to use opposing lanes. This would greatly curb head-on collisions that are rampant because of the narrow space on the roads. Another intervention could be to redesign by expanding the roads especially the highways as they approach trading centers. This is very critical. Many accidents tend to occur in busy trading centers along highways because of the high concentration of people and businesses. Highway markets and trading should be greatly discouraged. Markets should be relocated as far away as possible from the road. This is to ensure that the highways are free of any obstacles.

We are fully aware of the traffic rule requirement that allows for a maximum speed limit of only 50km in trading centers. This has however not been respected by speeding motorists. Besides, many trading centres are sprouting on the highways which has fundamentally reduced the driving speeds on most roads. The trading centers along highways need to be reorganized to conform to the highway standards. This will help in reducing accidents in such spots where many accidents have been occurring. The other measure that needs to be taken relates to accidents in major towns and cities. Transport modes need to be synchronized to ensure maximum respect and observance of traffic rules and regulations. Boda boda and bicycle lanes need to be introduced on the streets. We commend KCCA which has started introducing pedestrian walk ways on most of the roads they are constructing nowadays. This is one way of ensuring their safety.  However, URSSI is of the view that the cycle lanes which are still missing are quite important in creating order and safety on the roads. For the time being, we are suggesting that where the road is too narrow to accommodate two cycle lanes on both sides, only one side can be designated for use by cycles moving in opposite directions. Though this may not be an ideal alternative, it is far much better than leaving the cyclists to mingle in the traffic with motorists because this directly puts their life in straight danger.

We are not claiming that we shall completely eradicate road accidents and road death in Uganda at once because currently there are no foreseeable measures that would help us to achieve this. However, we can slowly introduce calculated measures and strategies that can begin cutting down the death toll on our roads in a systematic manner. The first action is to identify the major cause and act on it. As time goes on, we could realize that we have primarily reduced on the numbers that are dying and getting injured. It only takes commitment and courage on the part of leaders to put in more efforts in thinking and implementing strategies that are well thought out. At URSSI we promise to be part of those that are seeking for working solutions to reduce road carnage on Uganda’s roads. Here is a ranking of the top twenty African countries when comes to death on the road.

Ranking of Top Twenty  African Countries with highest Road fatalities per 100,000 per year
Number Country Road fatalities per 100,000 per year
1.         Libya 73.4
2.         Malawi 35.0
3.         Liberia 33.7
4.         Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) 33.2
5.         Tanzania 32.9
6.         Central African Republic 32.4
7.         Rwanda 32.1
8.         Mozambique 31.6
9.         Togo 31.1
10.     Burkina Faso 30.0
11.     Gambia 29.4
12.     Kenya 29.1
13.     Madagascar 28.4
14.     Zimbabwe 28.2
15.     Lesotho 28.2
16.     Benin 27.7
17.     Cameroon 27.6
18.     Uganda 27.4
19.     Sierra Leon 27.3
20.     Senegal 27.2

Source: Global Status Report on Road safety 2015, World Health Organization (WHO 

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