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Death on our roads – a mature epidemic

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Added 22nd August 2019 11:44 AM

News in the last one week again does show that the death toll on our roads is increasing exponentially as a result of major RTAs which occur almost daily.

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News in the last one week again does show that the death toll on our roads is increasing exponentially as a result of major RTAs which occur almost daily.


By Dr. Edward Kanyesigye

On August 9, 2012, I wrote in the New Vision the following article titled: “Death on our roads, an emerging epidemic.”

It was about the wastage of life due to road traffic accidents (RTAs) on Uganda’s roads. In it, I chronicled several accidents on Ugandan trunk roads, which had occurred in the immediate past one week. It also sampled but a few of the very precious and highly productive Ugandan souls which had perished in this carnage.

News in the last one week again does show that the death toll on our roads is increasing exponentially as a result of major RTAs which occur almost daily.

We have just been treated to the gruesome one in Rubirizi where people died in an inferno following the collision of a fuel- carrying tanker with several parked vehicles and into shop buildings.

We read about this bus, this trailer, this bodaboda or sadly our hapless pedestrians. Our memories are still fresh with the innocent pilgrims who perished in one such an incident (no longer accidents) near our border with Kenya.

It is always amazing that one case of Ebola can keep everybody on their toes and yet five fatal RTAs will just be reported on as other news and the casualties reported on as extra statistics.

As I set out to write this article, I found the article referred to above still relevant and allow me to quote from it.

The causes of road traffic accidents broadly fall into two categories: Those caused by human errors of either commission or sometimes omission and those due to the environment.

There is a lot that campaigns can do to reduce those due to human errors which include: speeding, drink driving, overtaking in bends and against continuous lines, attending to your mobile phone set while driving, lack of concentration ranging from excessive thoughts of the mind to sleep while driving and laxity among enforcement agencies, especially traffic Police.

The environmental factors include: slippery road surface(s), difficult terrain such us too many sharp bends or even very long stretches of smooth straight roads, narrow roads, absence of multiple lanes on motorways, poor road design, causes due to the vehicle such as burst tyres, failed brakes or broken suspensions and natural calamities such as floods, landslides and broken bridges.

It is generally believed that, however many campaigns you conduct, there will always be a few residual accidents since human behaviour is usually impossible to completely control. However, these would be negligible. Many injury prevention experts, therefore, usually concentrate on policies and interventions to modify the environment as these have a great impact.

For example, now that the 40km of the Kampala Entebbe road has been converted from a one way to a dual carriageway (with oncoming traffic in a different lane from the return road), the incidence of lethal accidents on the road should be reduced as most of the serious accidents are head-on collisions between vehicles travelling in opposite directions.

It is little wonder, therefore, that countries which have invested more in making their roads more user-friendly (even when experiencing a higher traffic density) may experience a lower death toll on their roads than those whose roads are just basic. It is ironic that as the roads improve in surface from gravel to tarmac surface and as the potholes get filled, the users tend to rush while driving on them and accidents increase.

 The following tips could help my reader make this contribution: -

• When on the road, assume that everybody else is likely to make mistakes except you and so ensure you exercise maximum care when driving, cycling or even walking while looking out for errant users and avoiding them.

• Do not exceed the set speed limit for any stretch of road, however, inviting the road surface may seem.

• Do not drink before or while driving and should you find that you have already drunk, get someone else to drive or park the car and use public transport.

• Report any taxi or bus driver who is driving dangerously.

• If you are in any vehicle and the driver is either speeding and or drink-driving, ask him to stop so that you get out and if possible, advise the other passengers to follow suit.  

• Discourage and condemn passengers and even road users who try to portray fast driving as a virtue and slow drivers as incompetents. Sadly, many people fall prey to this fallacy.


• Ensure your vehicle is in good condition by having it regularly checked, services and driven only by competent drivers. People with poor sight should have their vision corrected before they drive.

• Drivers should have plenty of sleep before embarking on the journey and busy and stressed persons should avoid “jumping from their work onto the roads”. Driving is so sensitive that the driver should be very well prepared for it.

What can the government do?

• Sponsor the civic works needed to make safer roads

• Strictly inspect vehicles to ensure they are roadworthy

• Traffic police should be counselors rather than disciplinarians who are just satisfied at imposing the on-the-spot fine or even taking a bribe from errant drivers.

• Revive the road safety council, which should comprise of prominent citizens, representative of drivers and cyclists, police, public health specialists and engineers. The council should be allowed to do research and advocacy and contribution to road usage policy. It should be adequately funded and some of the road safety campaigns should also be done alongside targeted fundraising for given specific activities.

• Widely circulate photographs, billboards, and posters involving known accidents, which claimed lives and insert road signs at blind spots to warn users.

• In some countries, monuments have been built at sites where a lot of lives were lost in past accidents.

• Protect the vulnerable especially children, old and frail people and the disabled on the road.

What can professionals do?

No public health problem lends itself better to interventions by professionals than RTAs prevention. There is a role for about each specialty in this project.

• The Public health professional can do campaigns and advocacy;

• The Police and other security agents can guide the users and enforce the code;

• The Engineers can contribute to policy on making safer roads;

• Teachers can disseminate the high way code and ensure pupils to observe it;

• The Politicians can do campaigns and fundraise for some injury prevention events;

• Religious leaders can sensitise their flocks;

• The Public can ensure they know their rights and resist any errant road user who intends to hurt them;

• The Journalists should continue sounding the gong of road safety loud and clear.

The writer is the president of the Uganda Public Health Specialists’ Association and Dean, UCU School of Medicine

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