By Richard Wetaya
KAMPALA, Christmas is without doubt one of the busiest times on Ugandan roads.
Almost every road is laden with heavy traffic as buses and commuter taxi’s ferry hundreds to their respective upcountry homes for the big day.
Through the years, the lead up to Christmas has seen one unfortunate trend, however. The rise in the numbers of car accidents and fatalities on our roads.
There was a harsh reminder last week when Bukomansimbi MP, Susan Namaganda died in a car accident in Mpanga Forest, 37 kilometres west of Kampala on Masaka-Kampala highway. A commuter taxi reportedly rammed into her car.
Police statistics show that Uganda records the highest number of road accidents in December, as motorists struggle to take advantage of the high inflow of people travelling across the country to participate in Christmas festivities.
Statistics from last year’s Police annual Crime Report, show that there were 1,684 accidents in December alone. 84 of these were serious, 244 fatal and 598 minor.
Many experts are quick to point out that the increase in accidents during the festive season is principally down to one thing - driver recklessness.
“During the festive season, there is a tendency by many drivers, especially those plying the upcountry routes to drive recklessly. Many overtake when it is not necessary and drive beyond the required speed limits, because in their thinking, the more trips one makes, the more money.
“Driving at high and excessive speeds, when there are many other road users is counterproductive. It puts the lives of many passengers and other road users at risk. Whilst there are many other reasons explaining the rise in accidents during the festive season, recklessness tops them all.
"It is because of recklessness that our roads have continually become death traps in the lead up to Christmas,” Justine Opus, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Central Police Station, Kampala, explains.
It is not of the common to catch news and reports of accidents happening on different roads throughout the country as Christmas approaches and as we head into the New Year.
For some reason, the accidents keep happening despite increased Police vigilance and road safety awareness campaigns by various other stakeholders, keen on ensuring that Ugandans remain safe and sound during the festive season.
It is mid December and Christmas is once again, upon us. In the prelude to the big day, many Ugandans, young and old, will be traveling in their multitudes, to not only celebrate Christmas but to reconnect with family and friends.
As is the norm, excitement will grow, but so will the risk factors on our roads.
“Many invaluable lives are lost on our highways during the Christmas period. Whilst it is unfortunate, most of these accidents can be avoided if drivers take heed to what the Police advices them. Most, if not all of the reported accidents in the past around the Christmas period were due to risky driving behaviours, such as unreasonable over speeding, risky over-taking, driver intoxication and abuse of road traffic rules and regulations,” Opus adds.
“The Police will have to do more to curb the carnage that may likely happen on our roads as Christmas approaches. More traffic Police officers should be deployed on the roads to rein in on drivers who drive recklessly. Drivers must bear in mind that travel during holiday periods is more risky because of increased traffic volumes and congestion,” explains George Sseremba, a driving instructor at God’s grace driving school in Ntinda.
Dr. Steven Kasima, the Director of the Traffic and Road Safety Directorate, Uganda Police Force says the Police is going to intensify road safety operations in the lead up to Christmas and beyond.
“ We are going to double our efforts in ensuring that Ugandans stay safe during the festive season. As regards safety on the roads, the Police are going to target and crack down on the most common offenses that occur during the festive period. Those who engage in traffic offences, such as over speeding and driving out permits will be arrested and taken to court. There is going to be increased Police presence on all highways, principally on road sections designated as black spots. On the roads and highways, integrated highway Police patrols are going to be intensified to nip any crime in the bud,” Kasima says.
Kasima adds that people who will be driving vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition and under the influence of alcohol will also be firmly dealt with.
To ensure safety on the road during Christmas, on spot checks of cars, documents ascertaining the eligibility of drivers, amongst other measures are going to intensified.
“We are going to rein in on reckless drivers, especially those bent on making money at the expense of passenger’s lives. Christmas is a time of excitement but people need to know that there is life after Christmas. The Police are going to be on the lookout for drunk and incompetent drivers. Everyone should ensure that they are on the right side of the traffic law this Christmas,” Opus states.
Safety on the road is determined by drivers and the condition of the cars they are driving, Opus rationalizes.
“If you are going to drive home for Christmas, have your car serviced and prepared for emergencies. Driving on the highways, principally those leading out of Kampala calls for alertness and poise. If you feel tired or fatigued, stop and rest for a short while, before you resume driving.
"Drivers should steer clear of over speeding and over taking. If you are going to over-take another vehicle, ensure that you have enough room to go past the vehicle you are overtaking. It is also good practice to indicate when changing lanes. It alerts other road users of what you intend to do. Passengers should also endeavour to use seat belts,” Opus says.
Steer clear of driving at night during the festive season.
“First off, driving at night requires more concentration and exposes one to criminals who as Christmas approaches increase their infamy. Driving at night is also hazardous due to restricted vision. Many drivers have their vision obscured by oncoming headlights as they drive at night.
"That in itself is dangerous. To avoid that, leave a wider gap between the car you are driving and the one in front of you. If you are going to make a long journey, make it a point to drive at day time,” Opus advices.
SOURCE: NEW VISION