Consider yourself as only sensible person on the road, says Gen. Katumba
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | On May 4, a Kampala-bound bus operated by Link Bus Services crashed and overturned several times killing 20 people on spot; including its driver leaving many others injured just a few kilometres from Fort Portal city. The death toll from that bus accident has since risen to 26 as some of the injured succumbed to injuries.
Days later the Minister of Works and Transport, Gen Katumba Wamala, blamed the accident on speeding. Minister Katumba said CCTV cameras near the bus’ crash point captured its speed at 99km per hour and the driver was seen driving with one hand just before the accident.
Government reacted by suspending the operations of all Link buses for two weeks. But before the two weeks elapsed, the suspension was lifted citing the need to address the transport gaps created by the suspension.
“Having gone through all the processes and convinced that Link Bus has taken necessary process to address the challenges and have put in place measures to address gaps that were there, we have taken decision to lift the suspension against Link buses,” Gen Katumba said.
“They can start going back to the routes and also address some of the gaps created by their absence.”
He said the lifting of the suspension also came after the bus company offered to foot bills for burial arrangement and medical treatment for the dead and injured respectively. According to the Transport Minister, only buses and drivers that have been verified by the ministry will be allowed back onto the road.
Reacting to the rampant road accidents, the Members of Parliament blamed government for failure to introduce compulsory speed governors in vehicles. A speed governor or limiter is a device used to restrict the speed of vehicles.
“I want the Ministry of Transport and Works to come out, regulate speed. Put speed governors and monitor vehicles that carry at least 10 passengers,” Bukooli Central MP, Solomon Silwany said.
He added: “I use buses a lot and I realise that the speed the driver uses is determined by him. If this does not stop, we will still have more of these accidents.”
In order to reduce accidents involving passenger service vehicles, the Ministry of Works and Transport in 2004 issued a statutory instrument on mandatory installation of speed governors to limit the speed of buses and trucks.
The move, however, encountered a number of challenges including resistance from drivers and implementation issues and was consequently dropped in 2008.
Uganda has the highest road accident fatalities in East Africa. A 2018 report by United Nations ‘Road Safety Performance Review on Uganda’ said 10 people die in Uganda every day due to road accidents.
Four years later, the police reports now estimate that 12 people die in road accidents in Uganda every day. That’s almost a taxi full of people dying preventable deaths.
According to the Global Road Safety Facility, 61% of road crash fatalities and injuries in Uganda occur in the economically productive age groups of 15 – 64 years.
Uganda has a lead agency present, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), Ministry of Works and Transport, which is funded in the national budget, and has a road safety strategy which is partially funded.
The functions of the agency include coordination, legislation and monitoring and evaluation of road safety strategies. The country only has a fatal road safety target, to reduce fatalities by 50% with a timeline of 2014 – 2022.
So what can be done to make Uganda’s roads safe?
First of all, on many of the highways in the country, there are hardly road signs in place. This is due to the activities of some unscrupulous and criminally-minded people, who steal the road signs and sell them for scrap metal. This makes drivers in Uganda ignorant of the speed limits and such other traffic-related information.
Christopher Ocuwon a site safety officer at TotalEnergies’ Tilenga Project says the company is spearheading road safety use in the area of operation where in busy communities; their drivers are under instruction to drive at a maximum of 40km per hour and 80km per hour on highways.
He says speeding and reckless overtaking at sharp corners are among worst traffic vices which often lead to road carnage.
Consequently, more traffic police officers should be deployed on highways armed with radar speed guns to enable them catch speeding motorists and other traffic offenders.
Besides, since many Ugandans often dodge going to driving school and obtain driving license illegally, the country needs a road safety campaign to educate errant drivers on road safety
To reduce road accidents many have suggested that Road-safety education should be introduced in schools as a subject right from pre-school to university. They say this will produce quality traffic officers, traffic guides, trainers, driver instructors, online-traffic monitors, environmentalists etc.
There should be certified mechanics (garages) licensed by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) to regularly examine and certify vehicles as either safe for transportation, need repair or maintenance or are out of service category. Also there is need to update the Uganda Highway Code (Rules of the Road) to international standard and avail it free online for the public.
The Works and Transport Minister, however, appealed to members of the public to ensure discipline on the road.
“We should avoid road carnage because it has adverse effects on families, overstretching the health sector and economy. It is my appeal that all users are responsible while we use the road. As a driver, consider yourself as the only sensible person on the road. You must know there is a vehicle in front, the sides, behind, and bodabodas,” Gen Katumba urged.