I was at the funeral of Morris Okumu, a 42-year-old pharmacist who died in a traffic accident on May 1 because he had not fastened his seat belt, when I learned that a bus carrying more than 65 people had crashed into the Sebotili tea plantation on the Fort portal Mubende road, killing 21 people.

A few hours later, another accident was reported with seven people killed and many others seriously injured in Mbale, and another in Rukungiri with one person pronounced dead. This is not the first time we have received such news.

We must then ask ourselves: when will this end, what must be done to avoid this loss of life? Uganda loses 10 people every day due to road accidents! Sixty percent of them are young people in their most productive age, just like Dr. Morris Okumu. Two weeks ago, Ugandan police reported 387 crashes that claimed more than 60 lives. Last week, in just one day, we lost 26 people, and many more are still in hospital.

With the kids heading back to school this week and day school commutes also starting, I don’t even want to imagine what will happen with so much travel across the country.
Uganda also loses 4.4 trillion shillings per year due to these road accidents. This represents five percent of our national gross domestic product. The Ministry of Works and Transport has been working tirelessly to develop and update regulations to implement the recently amended Traffic and Road Safety Act 2020.

A comprehensive National Road Safety Action Plan is being developed to propose a series of interventions that different officials will undertake over the next five years to improve the road safety situation in the country. Uganda’s strong laws and policies must also translate into strong enforcement and implementation. The public must also become more aware of laws and policies designed to save lives.

The ministry suspended the Link bus company’s license following the May 4 accident, but this is not the first time this has been done to a bus company. In addition, there is a large unmet demand for public transport, so the fact that the Link buses are off the road poses another big problem in the transport sector, especially at a time when children return to school.

Licenses are suspended and soon after buses are back on the road and we see more crashes again, the cycle continues as more lives are lost. We have conducted several investigations into different accidents and produced reports, but we continue to see more lives lost.

There is a general belief that our narrow roads and potholes are the main causes of accidents. However, we have seen more accidents occur on the Entebbe highway and other very well tarmacked roads, which are wide and free of potholes. While these can contribute to accidents, our own behaviors on the road pose the greatest risks.
Not wearing a seat belt, not wearing a helmet, speeding or driving beyond recommended speed limits and not having children well protected in car seats are the main reasons for these deaths. Many drivers don’t know what is expected of them when they are on the road, hence the need for more people, journalists and policy makers to speak out on the need for these policies.

Enforcers should be equipped with more speed weapons to ensure violators are instantly penalized. Paying the 200,000 Shs is painful enough to make one think twice before committing the same offence. The Express Penalty program is a solid piece of regulation that should be used appropriately. We have enough police officers, deploy as many as possible on the road and have senior officers follow up with batting supervision. supervisors should also closely monitor the operations of traffic officers to minimize corruption issues.

We have almost every MP buying ambulances for their constituencies – whether they are supposed to buy them or make sure the government equips every health center with ambulances is another story but how are they used ? An effective post-crash response is critical to saving lives, as it allows victims to access timely medical care.

However, all of these objectives cannot be achieved without the investment of adequate resources. Investment in these policies and their enforcement will be a clear indication of the government’s commitment to addressing road safety issues in the country.
Uganda must continue its fight for safer roads and cars. If we continue to observe a minute of silence for each accident victim, we choose to live in peace.

Ms. Jackie Okao is a farmer and policy advocacy specialist


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