Op-ed – Vehicle inspection good but reflects lopsided road safety priorities

By Peter Kaddu

The 2014 Annual Crime and Road Safety Report by the Uganda Police Force indicates that there were 17,846 casualties from road accidents in 2014 and 2,845 deaths. The majority of casualties were pedestrians (40.8%) while pedal and motor cyclists accounted for 29% of the fatalities.

The report, the last released by the police, says the total number of road accident cases was 20,307.  Of that, 16,605 were caused by human factors, key among which were reckless and careless driving.

The report specifically notes that vehicle conditions – brake failure, tyre bursts, steering wheel failure and headlight failure – were responsible for 448 accidents (2.2% of all accidents).

The above statistics clearly show that strategic and sustained interventions can reduce road accidents resulting from human factors, and the subsequent injuries and fatalities.

In November 2014, government approved the National Road Safety Policy. The policy spells out 11 strategic interventions, but I will point out four which directly link to my argument:

  1. Taking specific measures to improve the competence of drivers through modern and rigorous training and testing standards.
  2. Establishment of District Road Safety Committees to identify and implement road safety initiatives at the community level to ensure bottom – up road safety awareness.
  3. Improving the regulation and management of boda-bodas.
  4. Establishing a formal rescue system for road accident victims, bringing them to the nearest trauma care centre or health facility and ensuring they are compensated.

It is clear from the above interventions that improvement of driver competence and regulation, as well as management of boda bodas, can greatly lead to a reduction in road accidents. In addition, establishing a formal rescue system for accident victims can significantly reduce the mortality and long term disability associated with road accidents.

Strategic and sustained interventions can reduce road accidents resulting from human factors, and the subsequent injuries and fatalities.

Despite these glaring facts and statistics, the Ministry of Works and Transport seems to have prioritised the improvement of motor vehicle inspection. Although this is a good idea, it may only address less than 5% of road accident causes.

The government entered a public-private partnership with Switzerland-based multinational, SGS, to conduct mandatory vehicle inspection countrywide. In her statement to Parliament on 29 June 2017, Works and Transport Minister, Monica Azuba Ntege, said: “… this (the inspection) exercise is meant to reduce the number of accidents caused by vehicles in bad mechanical condition estimated at over 1,500 accidents each year.” The Minister’s accident statistics are more than three times what the Uganda Police Force reports.

If the estimated 1,000,000 plus registered vehicles were to pay an average sum of USH60,000, Ugandans would have “invested” USH60 billion to the vehicle inspection exercise. I believe this will go down in history as the single most expensive out of pocket investment in road safety by Ugandan citizens. Unfortunately, the greatest beneficiary will be SGS, since this massive quasi-public investment only deals with the exaggerated but “small” matter of vehicle conditions, with respect to causation of road accidents.

Interestingly, while presiding over the National Road Safety Week in 2014, the former Minister of Works and Transport reminded the guests of the basic road safety requirements such as wearing seat belts whether seated at the front or rear of the car, wearing helmets when using motorcycles, avoiding drinking alcohol or using drugs when one is going to drive, and avoiding speeding.

It’s crucial that all stakeholders take stock of available evidence with a view of re-thinking our road safety priorities.

It is high time we re-focused our attention and resources on what really matters – human factors that influence the behavior of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Re-examining at these factors is not only important, but also urgent.

*****

Kaddu is a concerned motorist, Medical Doctor and Public Health Specialist. He works with Living Goods Uganda as Director of Health

*****

Editor’s Note: Do you have strong and informed opinions on current affairs in Uganda and beyond? Send your 800-word opinion to info [at] acme-ug [dot] org and let your views be read.