By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Hellen Kalende, 23, had just completed her studies at Kyambogo University in August and was looking forward to the Dec. 15 graduation where she would get aBachelors degree in Information Technology and Computing. On Nov. 9 at 9:30pm she was knocked by a speeding car and died moments later at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.
“Her sudden death was devastating,” says Eli Muhindo, her father. “I had hoped she would be a development pillar in the family. My family lost so much,” Muhindo said. Kalende would have been the first graduate in her family and one of the few in her village in Maliba Kasese district. Kalende’s death is one of the many from year ends accidents
Earlier on, the evening of Oct.1 ended sorrowfully for the family of Daniel Mirembe, who was a Risk Operations Officer at Standard Chartered Bank. At 8pm. Mirembe, 31, his wife, two children and a guest died when a trailer rammed into and mangled their Toyota Hiace mini-bus. The accident wiped out the entire young family. On Oct. 27 Pastor John Michael Mugerwa and two American evangelists died after a trailer crashed their vehicle at Kakira, Jinja district at 7pm. Earlier on former Iganga district chairman Patrick Bageya died in a car accident after a saloon car he was travelling in collided with a lorry.
On Nov. 4 Kitgum district Woman MP Beatrice Anywar was involved in accident on Entebbe Road after her car overturned. She suffered head injuries. She was lucky to survive. On Nov. 19 a police officer died and 9 others were injured after police double cabin van overturned in Arua district. On the same day 4 employees of Kyenjojo district were killed when their van collided with a trailer on Fort Portal-Kampala highway.
As the year ended, the police’s half year accident figures were already alarmingly high. From January to June police had recorded 10,999 accidents implying 1,833 accidents occurred on average per month. Of these half year accidents, 1,442 were fatal, 5,056 were serious, and 4,501 were minor accidents. Compare that to the annual accidents of 2010 where 22,461 accidents were recorded giving an average of 1,872 per month, 2,620 were fatal, 9866 were serious, and 9,975 were minor accidents. So even before the year ends the fatal accidents recorded midyear are more than half the fatal and serious accidents in 2010.
At least one person dies in every seven accidents that occur in Uganda according the 2010 police crime report. Road accidents have been increasing in the last decade. In 2000, police recorded 14,390 accidents and 22,461 accidents were registered at the close of decade last year. A particular cause for worry, according to the report, is that accidents are the second leading cause of death after Malaria.
The half year numbers of fatal accidents for 2011 surpass those recorded for the same time in the last 2 years (1,092 in 2009 and 1,227 in 2010). The police midyear accidents report says 17,541 vehicles were involved in these accidents. Like in Kalende’s case the police report says motor cars formed the largest class of vehicles involved in accidents with 5,875 (33.5%) and killed more people. The cars are followed by 4,269 motor cycles (24.3%), 2,247 Light Omnibuses (12.8 %), 1,143 Light goods vehicles (6.5 %) and 755 Pedal cycles (4.3%) in that order.
Road safety in Uganda is poor and police reports say it has deteriorated over the last 20 years, “mainly due to the growing vehicle population and lack of resources for appropriate road safety interventions.” Deaths due to road traffic accidents grew from 660 in 1991 to 2,954 in 2010. The number of fatalities in Uganda is high compared to other African countries, and the fatality rate per 10,000 vehicles was 47 in the year 2010 compared to Kenya’s 35, which is equally bad in the region.
Cost of accidents
Human error, narrow roads amid increased road users, roads without safety feature, increasing number of vehicles on the roads, and indiscipline among road users, are among the lead causes of accidents. A witness at the fatal accident that claimed Pastor Mugerwa’s life says the driver was speeding and had a huge lapse of judgement when he squeezed the car between the fuel trailers in attempt to dodge a head-on collision with another vehicle.
Pastor Mugerwa who was a church leader, marriage counselor, an entrepreneur, caretaker of orphans, school director, and a man his flock looked up to for advice and inspiration lost his life that way. He and his American friends had just conducted a gospel rally when they met death on their way back.
“Pastor Mugerwa was a very hardworking man both spiritually and physically. I benefited greatly from his church ministries especially the school where he was paying my fees. I am now uncertain of the future,” says Joshua Atwine.
Basil Mugisha, then – Commissioner for Traffic in the Uganda police, says indisciplined drivers are the biggest problem on the roads. “You cannot police every inch of their mind. They are just driving badly. You cannot rely on enforcement that you will give them a ticket; he will take it but continues to drive recklessly,” says Mugisha. He says whereas accidents are not reducing because of other factors, the human mind is the main problem. He says the National Road Safety Council needs to educate the public more about road safety.
“Bad roads –those without safety features to protect vulnerable users- make a small fraction that contributes to accidents we record. Fatalities increase because of over speeding on the good roads which makes chances of surviving accidents minimal unlike when the roads are bad collusions may be more but serious injuries will be low,” says Mugisha.
Police traffic reports indicate that dangerous accidents rise in the morning at 6 am reduce at 10 am as people rush for business and they peak at around 7:30 pm when people rush to catch up with family members and reduce at around 10pm because vehicles are reduced on the road. “But again I would not like to say driving at night is safer because visibility is poor and we have incidents,” says Mugisha.
What’s being done?
Legally the Ministry of Works and Transport is the lead agency in road maintenance and construction and sensitizing people on road safety. “They simply run road safety for campaigns for a week or month and stop yet this is their mandate,” says a traffic police officer. Efforts to talk to officials at the Road Safety Council were futile and they failed or refused to cooperate.
The police which says its role is enforcement shifts blame to the ministry of Works arguing that public road safety education that should be done by the ministry’s National Road Safety Council is insufficient. The council is supposed to regulate driving schools; it’s responsible for the training of drivers and standards.
Last year the minister of Transport signed a law on road safety road engineering. “In road safety the problem is the person –the driver, pedestrian, rider, who don’t care as they use the road and the second issue is condition of the road, vehicle and solution lies in educating people on road safety,” says Mugisha.
He says five years ago, Uganda police had 500 traffic officers on the roads, which has been increased to 1,045. These were working with 45 traffic police motorcycles on the road in 2009 that have increased to 420 today. Other equipment like speed guns have been doubled but high number of accidents persists.
An analysis of Uganda’s traffic accidents since 2007 shows accidents have been increasing with the increase in vehicles. In 2007 there were 363,658 vehicles registered in the country. That year police recorded 28,517 accidents where 19,867 vehicles were involved leaving 2,597 people dead. 52,654 vehicles were registered in 2009 and 33,931 accidents were recorded involving 22,699 vehicles killing 2,734 people. When the number of vehicles hit the 635,656 vehicles registration mark in 2010 police recorded 34,412 accidents of which 22,461 vehicles were involved killing 2,954 people.
“The cost of accidents is terrible. How do you cost life? The most productive people have died in accidents. The cost is very prohibitive,” laments Mugisha