A Boda Boda ride and a sobering reality: Rethinking our approach to road safety

By Fred Amula

Last year, a seemingly ordinary boda boda ride became a chilling reminder of the precariousness of life on Ugandan roads. Boarding in Kireka, I found myself sharing the journey with a bodaboda reeking of alcohol. Fear gripped me as he dismissed my concerns, arguing he could navigate perfectly despite his inebriated state.

This encounter resonated deeply with an article by Dr Ian Clarke, which explored the President’s remarks following the untimely death of Speaker Jacob Oulanya.

Dr. Clarke’s words struck a chord: While the President’s comments regarding the “fatalistic” attitude towards death in Africa sparked debate, they also highlighted a crucial point. We cannot simply accept the alarmingly high number of road fatalities as inevitable. Statistics paint a grim picture: Uganda’s life expectancy lags behind developed nations, and road accidents claim lives at a rate 20 times higher than in countries like Norway.

These accidents are not merely unfortunate occurrences; they are often preventable. Reckless driving, poor road infrastructure, and lax enforcement of traffic rules contribute significantly to the carnage. However, the responsibility doesn’t solely lie with external factors. Each time we choose to overspeed, disregard traffic signals, or drive under the influence, we become active participants in creating a dangerous environment.

The figures are staggering: in 2023 alone, over 4,800 lives were lost on Ugandan roads. Pedestrians, motorcyclists, and passengers are all vulnerable, with the numbers steadily increasing year after year. Every statistic represents a life cut short, a family shattered, and a community left grieving.

The number of people knocked on Ugandan roads has increased from 12 to 13 people per day according to traffic police statistics as reported by the Independent recently.

The solution lies not just in stricter enforcement but also in a collective shift in perspective. Driving and riding are not merely about reaching a destination; they are about exercising responsibility and valuing human life. We must move beyond the mentality that “traffic police will handle it” and embrace a sense of personal accountability for our actions on the road.

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Sight must not be lost on the fact that soccer excitement is one of the victims of this circumstance of reckless riding. Imagine the heartbreak that can overshadow the joyous celebration of a hard-fought victory by your favourite team. Imagine the joy, excitement, the celebration after your favorite team wins a match. But that elation can turn to tragedy in an instant if supporters hop on boda bodas and speed off in celebration, only to meet a terrible end on the very roads that should have carried them home safely.

These fans, brimming with life and passion, deserve to celebrate their team’s victory. They deserve to return home to their families and friends. Their lives are precious, and they shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of reckless riding.

We all know Ugandan roads are far from perfect. There are potholes, bumps, and stretches that feel more like an obstacle course than a smooth journey. But these imperfections shouldn’t be an excuse for us to throw caution to the wind. A bad road, respected, can still take you to your destination. But a bad road, disrespected, can become a waiting monster, snatching lives away in the blink of an eye.

Let this be a wake-up call. Let us pledge to prioritize safety, respect traffic regulations, and treat each other with compassion on the road. Remember, it is not just about following rules; it is about cherishing life, our own and those around us. Every journey, every decision we make behind the wheel, holds the power to rewrite the narrative and pave the way for a future where Ugandan roads become not a symbol of danger, but a path towards a safer and healthier tomorrow. We can do this. We owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the vibrant future that awaits us all.

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Beyond the call to action, let’s focus on strengthening enforcement, educating the public, and improving the way we train and license drivers. We need stricter penalties for traffic violations, more police on the roads, and better technology for monitoring.

Public awareness campaigns should educate everyone – drivers/riders, passengers, pedestrians – about the dangers of reckless driving, drunk driving/riding, and speeding.

And finally, let’s raise the standards for driver/riding training and testing to ensure anyone behind the wheel knows the rules and has the skills to stay safe on Ugandan roads. 

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The writer is Fred Amula, amufredi@gmail.com based at NECOSOC, NGOForum, Nebbi. 


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