On August 18, Robina Mudondo was travelling in a taxi with two of her children from Kaliro to Namutumba District when a speeding bus rammed into them. The accident is reported to have claimed 10 lives.
“I sustained a broken leg and one of my children also broke an arm and the other sustained minor injuries,” Mudondo narrates. Mudondo’s experience is just a tip of the iceberg of road carnage in Uganda.
Addressing road carnage in East Africa
Samuel Mbabazi, a motorist who worked in Tanzania for one year, believes that Tanzania performs better than Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda as far as combatting road carnage is concerned. In Tanzania, Mbabazi says traffic laws are stricter.
“If you get caught driving above the recommended speed or committing any other traffic offence, even if you call someone in an influential political position, they will not rescue you. You will pay for the offence,” Mbabazi explains.
Traffic officers in Tanzania are also paid monthly allowances. This comes on top of their timely salaries. Allowances, Mbabazi opines, eliminate the element of bribery and corruption.
Hidden speed guns
Besides highway cameras that were installed along all Tanzanian highways, Mbabazi says traffic officers with speed guns at times climb trees or hide in bushes and will record videos and take photos of reckless motorists. This information is sent to the check point ahead through social media platforms such as WhatsApp to inform you of a committed traffic offence with video evidence.
Low driving speeds
The distance from Dar-es-Salaam to Arusha is approximately 622 kilometres. Under Tanzania laws, a motorist will need approximately 11 hours to cover this distance, driving at a distance of 60km/hour regardless of your status.
“Imagine driving in traffic jam or highway and the car in the next lane is for a minister or country diplomat without a lead car. That is how the law works on everyone in Tanzania. You will drive 70 kilometres in two hours because the speed limit in some sections dictates that you must not drive above 50km/hour,” Mugabe says.
Monitoring of public service vehicles
Unlike Uganda, every commercial vehicle, especially buses in Tanzania are fitted with tracking systems and speed governors. These are connected to the traffic police system that if you drive past the 90km/hour as the prescribed speed, you are fined or locked up. You may as well serve both punishments.
Rwanda versus Uganda
In terms of road infrastructure, James (not real name), a bus driver with Trinity bus company says roads in Rwanda are narrower than those in Uganda. He adds that traffic laws in Rwanda, just like those against use of polyethylene bags, are punitive.
For example, for every bus that is entering Rwanda regardless of whether it is registered in Rwanda or in another country, it must be fitted with a speed limiter that is connected to the Rwandan traffic police office as the regulator.
“It does not matter how long you are to drive. The speed limit for all vehicles is 60km/hour. If you are caught driving a car under the influence of alcohol, you are imprisoned and the car will be impounded,” James explains.
To address road carnage, especially on Masaka Road in early 2016, the Minister of State for Works and Transport Aggrey Bagiire launched the Fika Salama campaign in September 2016. The purpose of the campaign was to sensitise and discipline road users on road safety and infrastructure protection. To date, the campaign is still being implemented on major highways.
However, Charles Ssebambulidde, the spokesperson of the traffic directorate thinks that when you want to counter speed, Fika Salaama may not do much because these points are known by motorists wherever they are. And once motorists reach these points, they slow down. Ssebambulidde says this is when CCTV cameras come in handy .
“The CCTV cameras will be strictly for capturing motorists who drive above recommended speeds,” Ssebambulidde says.
This, according to Ronnie Kyazze, the head of programmes at Towards Zero East Africa, a campaign that works to end road crashes in East Africa, means that Uganda will take some time to realise results of greatly reduced road carnage.
“We may have to adopt the Tanzanian way of arresting those who drive above prescribed seeds by deploying hidden speed gun traffic officers. Otherwise, sooner or later, motorists will also master where these highway cameras are planted and will slow down as they approach them,” says Kyazze.
Unlike Tanzania, Ssebambulidde says the traffic directorate is in the processing of using number plate recognition cameras that curb motorists who drive above required speeds. Like Tanzania, Ssebambulidde says these cameras will send signals to the control centre which will then declare your car wanted for speeding and a fine issued.
The express penalty scheme
The traffic directorate launched the automated express penalty scheme. This replaced the manual penalty receipts that often took long to be fed into the traffic system and follow up by traffic police. The automated system captures both the vehicle number plate and the driver’s permit number.
“Since the system targets the driver rather than the owner of the cars, it has eliminated errant drivers who used to drive without permits. If you are caught driving without a permit, you are detained,” Ssebambulidde notes.
While most, if not all Ugandan roads are furnished with speed limit signs, Paul Kwamusi, a road safety consultant at Integrated Transport Systems Limited, says leaders or politicians are not being exemplary to motorists by driving at high speeds.
“People (motorists) look at what you are doing and learn from you. As an instructor, we tell people not to drive recklessly. The road safety challenge needs a leadership issue,” Kwamusi observes.
Kenya versus Uganda
According to Kyazze, the laws or policies or measures implemented to address road crashes in Kenya are more or less similar to those in Uganda. He is quick to comment that Kenya’s high traffic fines promote corruption.
“Roads in Kenya are wide and this means motorists drive illegally at speeds they want. These roads also have speed limit signs but when you are caught by a traffic officer driving beyond the recommended speed, they will flag you by the roadside for interrogation. The motorist will bribe them and drive away,” Kyazza explains.