By Rhoda Kalema
The New Vision of November 18, 2011 carried a story with headline that, Ministry orders motorists to use reflectors.
I immediately asked, are there any ‘reflectors’ for motorists to use in Uganda?
For several years, I have noticed that the lens fitted at the rear of the heavy and commercial and even 4-WD vehicles meant to reflect light, for the benefit of the driver behind, no longer served the purpose they were intended, when they were first introduced in Uganda in 1965.
I know the history of reflectors in Uganda. They were introduced by the then minister of works and communication, the late William W. Kalema my husband, who picked it while on a trip where he led a goodwill mission with Uganda Government officials to Eastern Europe and the Far East to negotiate a number of development projects. These included Paul Etyang and the late Katiti.
I understood that although the reflectors were not an item on the list, the mission was attracted by this safety equipment in Germany, so on their return, Kalema, as minister, immediately introduced and implemented the plates on the commercial/heavy vehicles, and it became law.
There used to be a saying against motorists who lacked these plates. They used to say, Tonkubya Kalema, meaning save me from Kalema’s beating.
Proper reflectors worked for about 30 years until the ministry started to accept what we have now: non-reflecting reflectors. I do not know why.
I am trying to tell the Ministry of Works and Transport, the Police and the current generation that the fixed bands at the rear of the heavy vehicles, which is still law, are ‘dummy reflectors’. I know that I shall be proved right say, starting tonight by any motorist or passenger, who will be behind a vehicle with the supposed ‘reflectors’.
The technical truth is that the alternate white or yellow (I don’t know why yellow was introduced too) diagonal bands between the red should have on the surface a reflecting substance and so they reflect. This gives the motorist behind, awareness of the distance, the size and the heaviness of the vehicle in front.
I was once stopped and questioned about the absence of reflectors on my new Pickup by two traffic policemen in the Industrial Area. They were in the right and I humbly apologised and truthfully explained that the vehicle was new, and I was going to fix them that morning.
However, I gave them the story I have related above and I challenged them to watch and see a vehicle with a reflector even within a short distance when it will turn dark. They looked at me and said, ‘But Madam you should tell Kayihura this.’ I regret I did not act then; I did not have the time to look for him because I would not succeed to find him anywhere as I have failed many times, about other issues. Once I fixed the dummy reflectors on my vehicle, I just hoped for the best.
The Ministry of Works and Transport and Police are right to be concerned, but more so are the public. We get sleepless nights when tragic and fatal accidents, claiming so many lives, even wiping out whole families are reported in the media.
Many of these that occur at night are due to lack of awareness of the distance and nature of the vehicles in front of the drivers, implying a lack of effective reflectors.
We may not rule out other factors such as recklessness and tired drivers, but the ministry should see that the reflecting substance is imported immediately, and that all the existing ones are withdrawn and replaced.
The cost would be immaterial compared to the safety we shall achieve, to save lives and the sadness. Tomorrow it will be you or me, your relative, friend or mine.
Further, the reflectors should be kept clean; free of smoke and mud, and this was also the regulation, if I remember well.
Therefore, I request the minister of works and his officials to condemn themselves and apologise for the neglect of offering expertise for such a long time. Then the ministry can order the motorists to use genuine reflectors.
The writer was an active women activist and politician