By James Ssempijja
There is a growing uncertainty among road users on whether they would reach their destinations each time they use road transport due to poor road safety. According to the first United Nations Road Safety Review for Uganda (UNRSR,2018), the degree of road safety challenge is alarming though has failed to receive the required consideration for suitable intercessions.
Currently, Uganda is far from attaining the set goals of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety; considerably reducing the forecast level of road fatalities by 2020. On the contrary, unless significant measures are put in place, road accidents will continue to injure and claim more lives.
The Uganda Police report on Crime (2017) revealed that there were 13,244 road crashes in 2017, as compared to 14,557 in 2016; with 3,051 and 2,999 respectively being fatal. The UNRSR (2018) reveals that on average, Uganda loses 10 people per day in road accidents, which is the highest in the East African region. The UN estimates indicate that the overall cost of road crashes is 4.4 trillion shillings. This accounts for about 5% of Uganda's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The above scenario paints a taint image for a country that desires to achieve a middle-income status. Efforts to improve road safety like the police operations i.e. "FIKA SALAMA" seemed to be hitting a high note such that a number of reckless drivers were arrested and cars in dangerous mechanical condition were impounded. However, on a sad note, this operation could not continue due to funding challenges. The Ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT) Ministerial Policy Statement (2017/18) declared road safety activities as being one of the unfunded sector priorities.
The government has showed great effort to address road safety, However, it seems as if there isn't a clear plan at a national level to coordinate efforts to reduce road carnage. Furthermore, institutional weaknesses in vital areas like; coordination, legislation, and compliance to standards have often worsened the problem. The increasing population in urban areas has also increased pressure on roads that were initially designed for a few vehicles and pedestrians. This explains why pedestrians are the biggest victims of fatal accidents; 1,319 and 1,384 deaths in 2017 and 2016 respectively, followed by motorcyclists with 918 and 791 deaths in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
To improve road safety; Government needs to commit towards consistent budget allocation towards interventions such as; regulation, publicity and enforcement, fast-track mandatory inspection of all vehicles should as a way of reducing vehicles in a dangerous mechanical condition operating on our roads.
Vehicles that do not fit the standards should be sold off as scrap, MoWT should also design and launch an electronic system to collect and store data on key indicators of road safety like; reckless drivers, and overloaded vehicles, among others, and consider that in every road design there is a provision for safe walk ways and crossing points for pedestrians supplemented with adequate street lighting.
Martin Luther king once said "the only way for evil to prevail is when the good people do nothing". This is the ideal moment to stand up and save the many lives road accidents might claim when we do nothing.
Researcher, Uganda Debt Network