I grew up in this city, and my first experience with road carnage did not take a while, a school mate of mine, at Bat Valley Primary School was de-skinned under a speeding taxi between Little Flowers and YMCA. Needless to mention, it was the first of many lives to waste on our roads.
It is amazing but a boda boda may kill you faster than HIV Aids and Malaria! The thing is, we have to do something drastic, something disruptive if we want to see different results on our roads.
#1 – Age of Our Vehicles
We must make a conscious decision about how old the cars we let into this country are. Note that age alone doesn’t make a car less useful, but a significant percentage of the cars we import are used. Wear and Tear cannot be masked by a cute coat of paint or a new registration, we must consciously decide that this country is worth progressively newer cars that tend to carry with them newer features and technologies for safety. We need to invert the bell shape for taxation of cars around the 5 to 6-year-old mark. These cars will already contribute various taxes through regular consumption of materials (such as fuel and lubricants) and services (such as insurance and jobs in maintenance).
#2 – Road Worthiness Check for Vehicles
Every 2 years, without fail, every car in and around Kampala must attend a road worthiness check, a criterion that must be developed not democratically, but by law. We may not get it right the first time, but we have to start somewhere. Computerized checks would reveal the condition of cars – especially if they are not older than a certain age.
This certificate will not ensure less accidents, but it will guarantee that any we have will not have their effects multiplied because of the condition of the car. Still, I think that we deserve this for the future of this nation.
If you have sat in a taxi lately, ramming 12 people in the back, it is a maddening surprise that we expect people to come out alive.
#3 – Driver Qualifications
I sat a driving test, but all I ever drove was the safety of Naguru’s deserted colonial streets. I wonder if the officer who gave my test would be willing to take it to the busy highway sections of Kakira and the Northern Bypass.
Do we need a simulator for road tests, just like pilots do? Perhaps we can resort to a low tech projected mobile phone car game – because these do a better job of simulating traffic conditions on the road, far more than anything I have experienced in real life.
Then there is the occasional boda that will cut you in, and the self-entitled taxi driver who cuts you off because he keeps left.
How many hours, simulated or real, does one need before a driving license can be issued? And why do we issue 3-yr licenses to first time drivers?
#4 – Digitized Road Signage
I have seen solar powered digital road signs used during construction, and they come in handy no matter the visibility, but usually the next time you will see them is when another road section is under construction.
They work so well, use very little power, are mobile and can be deployed in the unique of the moment yet we do not use them. Every consignment for arms and riot gear should include a significant amount of these signs as the effects on the roads kill more people every month than riots ever do in the whole year.
#5 – Reputation as a Deterrent
It’s time to add to the fines. You need to pay the fine, for the offence you have committed, but you need to be a part of the solution going forward.
How can we use something so precious as reputation to drive the point home? We need to be able to withdraw driving rights and privileges – in fact we can make a mess of it by publishing offenders who we do not expect to be driving, for regular periods such as a month, 3, 6 or even 12.
Every offending driver will suffer reputational risk on 2 fronts, Suspension and Withdrawal. Every repeat offence while under suspension automatically extends your penalty. If caught driving under a withdrawal ban, you will start with Community service (directing rush hour traffic) and progress to jail.
#6 – Complimentary Services
So we can renew car insurance at the point of road worthiness check, right? We can also supply First AID boxes that are suited to a particular vehicle type, at the same check. And we can ask that suppliers of car materials provide for at least 2 year guarantee on materials such as tires. The point is, when you begin to do one thing, and you bring all complimentary services around it, so that drivers can be saved the burden of picking up services from various points.
Insurance companies should have higher premiums for cars with accidents, and should consider excepting cars driven by drivers on the permit withdrawal plan. Comprehensive premium covers should be favored over third-party covers, so that we can begin to count the medical and life costs of road carnage. Cars with regular service schedules and manufacturer guided part replacements should be incentivized.
#8 – Road Safety Investment
Now how do we invest for all these things to happen? We need a percentage of that traffic fine to go financing road safety. Your fines should contribute directly to purchase of road signs, painting of tarmac signage (did I mention community service above?) and sustenance of research and planning for road safety.
Of course this is multi-sectoral, lest an entity takes the power and control and we see exponential road fines being handed to offenders. The solution here is not to banish you beyond returning to the roads, it’s to engage more of you in the solutions to problems caused by your behavior on the road.
#7 – Analytics and Data
Finally, we need to tie this all together in a simple data and information system – no expensive procurements, we already have the passport recognition system at the airports, and we already have barcode scanners which we can use to pull up a history. Yes, we also have 3G and 4G in many places in this city, and we can get 4G SIM cards for free (or as part of community support) from the telecoms.
If a traffic officer cannot tell my driver history within 2 minutes of holding my driving permit, and cannot tell if the car am driving has been involved in an accident before, then he has already lost the mind game, and (possibly) the moral authority to hold me accountable.
But of specific value is the level of relationships we can create from data mined by whipping up a simple information system. The devil is always in the details, and currently we lack these and are not able to make any informed management decisions.
Unless we are willing to be intentionally disruptive to the habits of drivers, and the ecosystem of vehicle operation and use in this country, we may huff and puff whenever we have a significant life-sucking accident, but may never muscle the changes we need to see, in order to save lives on the roads.