Uganda Pins Road Safety Hopes On New Traffic Authority

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National road safety agency aims to drive down Uganda’s traffic accidents.

On average there are 61 accidents and nine deaths every day on Uganda’s roads, which are in such a poor state that the locals once fished out of the potholes in protest.

Now, five years after the idea was mooted, the government is in the final stages of setting up a national agency to reduce traffic deaths and improve road safety.

And Uganda is not alone. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest road fatality rates of any global region, several countries are setting up road safety agencies, a step the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has recommended as part of the UN decade of action on road safety.

Traffic accidents are the single biggest killer of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 worldwide. More than 90 per cent of traffic fatalities happen in low- and middle-income countries, which are home to just half of the world’s cars.

The World Health Organisation and the World Bank have long maintained that dedicated national agencies are the best way to tackle the issue of road safety, which does not fall strictly within the authority of traditional ministries of health, transport or law enforcement.

In Uganda, the new National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) will be responsible for “advocacy, sensitisation, awareness campaigns and lobbying for more funding”, says Nathan Tumushabe, secretary of the country’s National Road Safety Council, a branch of the transport ministry that will be disbanded once the NRSA is established.

Tumushabe stresses that the body, to be funded by the World Bank for its first two years, will not play a regulatory role or have an enforcement mandate. Its success, he says, will largely depend on political goodwill.

Joseph Magoola, a trauma and injuries scholar at Makerere University in Kampala, says there has been “pressure to have the body created and made operational. However, success depends on the level of coordination and participation of other agencies with an interest in road safety.

“Previous efforts to curb the road carnage haven’t been successful because the police was working independently,” he says. “It’s my hope that the agency will not follow a similar path but instead elect to work with the police, ministry of health and ministry of works for a concerted effort to reduce road carnage in Uganda.”

The NRSA has at least one good example to follow: Nigeria, which set up its Federal Road Safety Corps 25 years ago in an attempt to reduce carnage on the roads. At the time, there were about 25,000 crashes per year in the country, says Osita Chidoka, head of the corps. By 2012, the figure had dropped by 75 per cent.

The Nigerian agency, which reports to the president’s office, won a major international road safety award in 2008. The World Bank’s Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme has described it as “an inspiration to other countries in several ways”, singling it out for its professional management and use of modern technology, among other things.

Chidoka says the FRSC uses a state of the art biometric driver’s licence and vehicle number plate identification system as well as a satellite based vehicle-tracking system that enables real-time location of patrol teams and ambulances nationwide. It has also implemented a penalty point electronic ticketing system for traffic offenders.

“We are very proud of our record so far,” says Chidoka, who has been in charge for the past six years. “That has meant that we do more to keep up our record and surpass it.”

He adds that the achievements of the corps, which has run campaigns promoting seat belt use and pedestrian safety, were a result of “committed staff who have a career in road safety”. There are 20,000 people working for the FRSC, which has funding from the national budget.

About 20 African countries have dedicated road safety authorities, says Tawia Addo-Ashong, programme manager of the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility, but fewer than five of those nations have fully functioning agencies. Nigeria’s FRSC, she adds, was ahead of its time.

“Most other countries still have to create the legislative framework that gives them the mandate to act as a lead road safety agency, and this is a process that takes time,” she says, adding that many agencies lack the funding they need to be effective.

Many African governments are cooperating in their efforts to curb road deaths. A Ugandan team visited Ghana in 2009 to learn from the experiences of its National Road Safety Commission. And Sierra Leone recently announced it would adopt the FRSC’s approach to road safety management after Nigerian experts visited the country last year.

Chidoka hopes his staff will also travel to Liberia, which has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in Africa, to help set up a national road safety agency. A trip to Tanzania is also in the pipeline, he says.

“Having counterparts who understand the context and realities of developing countries is very useful,” adds Addo-Ashong.

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