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.
This week, the Ugandan community is awash with news of the demise of Becky Nampijja, a recent graduate and a beneficiary of the Watoto Child Care Ministries.
Becky was raised up as one of the thousands of orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children that have characterised the Ugandan social scene in part due to the scourge of HIV and AIDS reaping their parents or the burden of social responsibility being too much for unemployed parents.
In a unique model of a foster community, off Mityana Road, Watoto Child Care Ministries places 8 such children in a home with a mother and there, their lives being to take shape as they should have been had they stayed in a proper home. They get brand new brothers and sisters, and learn to accept new mothers with whom they share life. They go to school, have a medicare facility and a community centre where they meet on the weekends for events and church services.
Becky, would have, earlier on, travelled on the famous Watoto Children’s Choir where she would have sang and danced to share the gospel, and tell of the story of her rescue and transformation; and help to raise funds so that more children like her can be rescued. In the course of her life, true to the african adage, Becky would have been raised by a Village!
That village would include sponsors, from 6 countries where Watoto Choir has been, that village would include me and you, who for a paltry UGX 70,000 every month, provide the resources that Watoto Child Care Ministries needs to put children like Becky through an education all the way to the University.
In January 2015, a little orphaned and abandoned gal had grown and transformed into a beautiful young leader, armed with an education and the best possible upbringing – Becky graduated with an Economics degree. She bit so many odds to get to this point, and she already had a job, a rare and priceless acquisition in a country with nearly 83% graduate unemployment.
There are 4000 such children in the Watoto Children’s Homes and thousands more in the other foster homes scattered allover the country. In those homes, there are children who look up to their big sisters (read: Becky) and mothers who pride in sons and daughters who have lived to beat the curse of a fatherless generation.
To have to live with the death of Becky Nampijja in such a senseless spectacle is a heart wrenching matter – Becky is the very future of this country and before we have to reap the reward of years of hard work in rescuing and raising her to rebuild her nation, Becky is taken away from us.
My heart weeps, and the pain cannot be verbalised.
On the day of her death, Becky was one of the first of many fatalities for the month of March 2015, recorded at the Central Police Station in Kampala. This station reports 308 deaths due to Boda Boda accidents for the first 60 days of this year – that is 15 lives every single day.
If Alshabaab was killing 20 lives every month, there would be a supplementary budget for military acquisitions to the tune of many billions of shillings. Yet we sit idly by as Boda Bodas kill 15 people daily.
We had Operation Wembley when armed thugs began to kill and rob, at the height of it, no more than 30 people were killed in a month – but today we sit idly by as Boda Bodas kill 15 people daily.
Uganda, how many young people are we prepared to lose before Boda Bodas become a terror in our lives? How many excuses and reasons are we going to give before we consider this a serious threat to the very life of this community?
The strain on the country’s limited health budget is growing. According to a report by Makerere University College of Health Sciences and the department of orthopedics at Mulago, about 40% of trauma cases at the hospital are from boda-boda accidents (pdf). The treatment of injured passengers and pedestrians accounts for almost two-thirds of the hospital’s annual surgery budget.
For the life of Becky Nampijja and 308 other Boda Boda deaths in 2015 alone, I demand that we do something!