Just like many Sub-saharan countries where thousands of lives of road users are lost in road accidents, Uganda is not exceptional.
According the Police annual report of 2017, Uganda registered 13,244 road accidents out of which 3,051 were fatal, 6,530 serious and 3,663 were minor.
These accidents are caused by among other factors speeding and overtaking, the lack of having traffic signs on several highways which make drivers ignorant of speed limits as well as boda boda riders who continue parking on pavements despite the traffic laws.
But, what is the fate of the victims of the nasty accidents? Well, hundreds of them die and others sustain terrible injuries on top of becoming permanently lame.
Road users especially those traveling in motor vehicles ought to use safety belts, also referred to as seat belts.
A sea belt is a vehicle safety device designed to secure the occupant of a vehicle against harmful movement that may result during a collision or a sudden stop. It functions to reduce the likelihood of death or serious injury in a traffic collision by reducing the force of secondary impacts with interior strike hazards, by keeping occupants positioned correctly for maximum effectiveness of the airbag (if equipped) and by preventing occupants being ejected from the vehicle in a crash or if the vehicle rolls over.
Passengers in who do not wear a safety belt can become projectiles in case of an accident. Due to inertia, unbuckled passengers can very easily be ejected through the front, rear or side windows, resulting into death and several injuries which could be avoided with a well fastened safety belt.
In Uganda, safety belts are not just optional, having them in vehicles and fastening them is provided for by law. In fact, whoever goes against them, commits an offence and risks imprisonment.
Under section 178(2) (g) of the Traffic and Road Safety Act, (Cap 361), only motor vehicles with all the seats fitted with safety belts as authorised by the Minister are registered and licenced.
It provides that each safety belt, including its anchorage, fastenings and adjusting device shall be maintained free from any defect, which would adversely affect its performance as a restraining device.
The law further states that: “The driver and all passengers in a vehicle must wear safety belts at all times when the vehicle is moving, even where the vehicle is paused at traffic lights
or stop points or stopped in a temporal traffic jam or in very slow moving traffic.”
For not utilising the safety belts, both the driver and passenger are penalised according to the traffic regulations. The driver risks a fine of not less than two currency points and not exceeding four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding 3 months, or both.
On the other side, the passenger on conviction is liable to a fine of one currency point or imprisonment not exceeding one month, or both.
Ideal versus reality
Even given the adverse benefits derived from the use of seatbelts as well as the law in place, the highest number of road users in Uganda especially in public means except the drivers, don’t use them.
Most passengers only enter buses and taxis comfortably sit without asking for or fastening the seatbelt and await the vehicle to take off.
Worse of all, this is done in presence of traffic Police officers who in most cases only mind about the licence concerns, loading, mechanical conditions of vehicles and driving permit.
It is a fact that, if one took a random sample of taxis on one of the roads leaving the capital city today, he may be very lucky to find any, with all passengers with fastened safety belts.
Government and Police have been successful in implementing the fixing of these belts in vehicles, but performed below pass in enforcing their utilisation.
While traveling in one of the taxis days ago, I engaged some passengers on the issue, just seeking their opinion.
A number of them claimed that seat belts in public means are always dirty and spread with dust which would eventually dirt their clothing if they fastened them.
But, how about in cases where the belts are ‘clean’, do they labour to use them?
Or may be, the case for the privately owned cars with ‘clean’ seat belts, do all people who travel therein fasten the safety belts including those in the passenger and the back seats? Not at all.
Others have a belief that seat belts increase a risk of injuries and death in some accidents.
“Imagine if a vehicle caught fire, where will you get the time to unfasten the belt?” asked one of the passengers.
This to me appeared to be ignorance caused the the failure by the traffic Police to offer sufficient education the road users about the role of the seat belt.
What does the Police Say?
Ssebambulidde Charles, the spokesperson of the Traffic Police in Uganda reaffirms the provisions in the traffic regulations.
He however dismisses claims that Police ignores passengers who do not fasten safety belts.
“Police has not ignored passengers who don’t fasten the belts, in fact, there is a fine for that, I think it is Shs 20,000,” Mr Ssebambulidde told SoftPower News on phone.
But when was the last time you had of a passenger charged with not fastening seatbelt? Well, this will be our next point of research.