By Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa Kiracho
As we mark the road safety week and the European Day, we want to take this opportunity to thank the European Union for their generous support to the transport sector. The European Union has been one of the major funders who have supported construction of major roads such as the Northern by pass and the northern corridor route that connects Uganda to Rwanda and the Democratic republic of Congo. They have also supported the cost analysis of interventions such as FIKA Salama that sought to reduce road carnage through their support to the Makerere University School of Public Health -SPEED project. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among children and young adults aged 5 – 29 years and ranked as the 11th cause of death globally with approximately 93% of the mortality occurring in low income countries. According to the WHO Global status report on road safety, 2018 Uganda was among the countries with the highest traffic death rates estimated at 29 car deaths per 100,000 population. It is therefore critical that we take action to curb this steep rise in road carnage.
If Uganda is to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal target of halving the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic injuries by 2020 a lot more needs to be done. I highlight some areas that we need to continue addressing through intersectoral action that involves all key actors and that encourages the safe system approach which advocates for safe roads and road sides, safe vehicles as well as safe road users.
Firstly, regarding safe roads and roadsides, the roads need to be constructed in a manner that allows them to consider the needs of vulnerable users who include pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists who often bear the brunt of road traffic accidents. They should have Zebra crossings but these are often few and too far apart. Similarly, road designs should include cycling lanes and footpaths which are often missing in most of our roads. In addition, the authorities need to reduce automobile congestion on the roads especially within the capital city, Kampala. Kampala city has become increasingly crowded with motor cycles racing across the streets from all directions, in narrow streets that are already congested by motor vehicles of all sizes and an increasing number of three wheeler vehicles. This congestion and crowding increase the risk of accidents for pedestrians trekking the streets of Kampala. Restriction of the use of Boda boda cyclists and three wheelers should be seriously considered to reduce congestion within the inner Kampala city until we have lanes for all the different road users.
Whereas motorcycles are extremely important in rural areas their use in more urban areas needs to be reviewed and reconsidered. The economic burden of motorcycle related injuries was estimated to be about USD 3.6 million annually in 2014 in a study by Richard Sebaggala and colleagues done in Kampala.
Secondly, the traffic police should promote safe vehicles and safe road users by enforcing stricter road usage laws. In Uganda, more attention should be paid to ensuring that motorcycle riders respect traffic rules. On Kampala’s roads, they often appear to be above the law, ignoring the red traffic lights and the one-way signs on the roads as if they do not apply to them. Boda boda cyclists should follow traffic rules, use helmets and attend riding classes. In a recent multicounty study on motorcycle use in rural areas, carried out by the Africa Community Access Partnership (AFCAP) only, 2% of the riders had attended a driving school and only 10 % had riding licenses. Ugandan motor cycle riders had the lowest ownership of helmets (41%) with only 25% reporting that they always wore helmets. Ugandans riders also had the highest proportion of injuries (48%). Creating safe road users also requires that we increase public awareness about the role of road users in enhancing their own safety. Passengers often claim that they don’t use helmets on motorcycles because the helmets are not available. However, even when the helmets are provided for example by the “safe boda” riders, often the rider has a helmet but the passenger helmet is tucked away safely at the front of the bike. Similarly, many passengers do not use seat belts even when they are available in the car. In the AFCAP study, 62% of riders reported that passengers never ask for a helmet and yet correct helmet use can lead to a 42% reduction in fatal road injuries. We need to step up consumer education and awareness about road safety.
As we conclude the road safety week I end on a note of gratitude. Thanking our funders, the European Union, the Ministry of works and transport and the Uganda National Road Authority, Uganda Police Force who have supported the transport infrastructure and made our roads safe as well as the traffic police who enforce road usage laws and ensure that we Fika Salama!
The writer is a health Economist with the SPEED project and Chair Department of Health Policy Planning and management- Makerere University School of Public Health.