Brian’s Column: Visibility of all road users shouldn’t be a debate in Africa

Tuesday, 8 May 2012 , Brian Kanaahe Bilal Mwebaze


Every month, Brian writes his column on road safety issues in Africa. Brian is a road safety activist, campaigner and public health peer educator give his column a candid insight into the world of youth and road safety issues in Africa. This month, Brian draws upon his experience of a public level debate on the use of reflectors in the night in Uganda, a debate that is common sense but where some place a political agenda on the subject. Read more here!


Hello once again…this year seems to be on a rock n roll marathon. Sounds like it’s being chased by Usain Bolt himself, but yes…I think it would be awesome if we had a competitor like in the movie ‘The Dictator 2012’ ‘le dictateur 2012’. If you have watched it, please do before it’s your judgment day …but, I bring you another judgment topic this time on our visibility while on the road. Now, ladies and gentlemen, what do you do before going out to a party or something? We all know that we go in front of the mirror, check out the attire we are planning to dress in. Oh, and the girls take 3+ hours preparing themselves up, so I hear…then the boys are worried about their beard style etc..Rastas (except myself) are worried about their dread locks and Turbans LOL

africa road 1
On a typical African rural road, lamps and lights have not been installed making low visibility on the road a hazard.

Now, not to be sounding like a new school course to you but seeing and being seen are fundamental prerequisites for the safety of all road users. Inadequate visibility is an important factor that influences the risk of a road crash among all types of road users: In developing countries which are heavily deployed in Africa, inadequate visibility plays an important role in at least three types of crash that I have noticed:

  • At night, vehicles that run into the rear or sides of slowly moving or stationary vehicles; I have been in a car and what I see in front is something like a torch flash, so, you think it’s like a motorcycle only to find it’s a trailer when you are a few meters away, very dangerous with limited stopping time. You will agree with me, that’s how a lot of accidents happen at night.

  • During the day, angled or head-on collisions; then, we have seen Michael-Schumacher-wannabes. Those are dudes who twist and bend their cars on the road like Michael Jackson doing the moon-walk. Weird for me to say, those drivers are aged less than 30 years,-where of course many of us fall! Their reckless driving and lack of responsibility is causing many crashes.

  • At all times, rear-end collisions often occur in poor weather conditions. In annoying weather conditions characterized by fog, smoke, darkness, fumes where our eyes can’t see far in front of the car. Even pedestrians can’t judge effectively their distance and that of the car. You have also heard about collisions being caused by animals crossing the road…

africa forum
In Africa, road safety is becoming an issue gathering more attention and road safety debates are being placed on the agenda.

At all times, rear-end collisions often occur in poor weather conditions. In annoying weather conditions characterized by fog, smoke, darkness, fumes where our eyes can’t see far in front of the car. Even pedestrians can’t judge effectively their distance and that of the car. You have also heard about collisions being caused by animals crossing the road…
In low-income and middle-income countries, the poor visibility of pedestrians and vehicles is a serious problem, serious problem, I repeat! The mix of motorized and non-motorized traffic, together with poor street lighting (where it exists), increases the risk of unprotected road users not being seen. Non-use of low-cost interventions such as bicycle lamps or reflective equipment, reflective clothes exacerbates already unsafe conditions.
On 4th May 2012, I had a chance to facilitate at the Ministry of Works and Transport in Uganda about the use of light reflectors on motor cars, motor cycles, cyclists, pedestrians and wheel barrow pushers. The audience was representative with a blend of political leaders, civil society organizations, and victims of road crashes, motorcars, motorcycles and bicycle associations. Then of course, there were youth associations.

brian s conference banner
Brian’s gives us an insight into his experience at the African Ministerial conference.

According to it, bicycle riders who will be found without lights and reflectors beyond 6.00pm face a fine of sh40, 000 or one month in jail or both upon conviction. Similarly, motorcycle riders and other motorists driving at night without reflectors and lights face a fine of sh500, 000 or a one-year sentence or both. While riding bicycles in the dark, (6.00pm to 6.00am), riders should have a lit lamp fitted to the front as well as a clear red light and a reflector on the rear mudguard. A reflector (white, red or yellow stripes) on the vehicle/motorcycle must be fitted to an immovable part of the vehicle and it must not be obscured in any way. The new regulations are contained in Statutory Instrument 2012 that works and Transport Minister Eng. James Byandala signed on February 13, 2012.
According to the works and Transport Ministry, the regulations are aimed at bringing down the number of rampant road collisions caused by ill-equipped vehicles on the roads. “A reflector on motor vehicles or trailers shall be fitted to ensure that during darkness, it reflects the light of another vehicle projected on it so as to be clearly visible to the driver of the vehicle", according to guidelines from the ministry. Only vehicles that by their construction and adjustment have lamps that diffuse or direct their light as to prevent any glare and those prescribed or permitted by the ministry’s chief mechanical engineer will be exempted from bearing reflectors. The regulations also require motorists to always have a pair of triangular reflectors as emergency signs that they will be required to place on the road both in front and behind the vehicle in a distance in case of any breakdown.

low vis road
Low visibility on Africa’s roads due to low weather and so forth makes the use of reflectors for visibility extra important.

Everything went on smoothly until; the permanent secretary to the ministry gave a chance for every representative to make their reactions. While there was around of applause from the audience, I was shocked to hear some complaints regarding procuring reflectors, whether the police will be very active in this whole process?, who would monitor the whole process?, whether this campaign will fail or not, whether the campaign is a political move…a lot of complaints really. There were also complaints about the high penalty fees…
From the presentations which looked at behavioral change, the effectiveness of reflectors and my presentation which supported the ‘Road Safety Begins With You’ principle, it looked evident that the best thing everyone would do at that time would be to accept the programme! It is typical of us to always run away from responsibility. We want to blame the government, the police, the ambulance services, the weather, the gods..eish! In a country where sixty percent of the crashes occur at night, a figure that claimed 32,000 mortalities in 2011, I see no fuss on making all road users safe! Oh, and to hell with motorists who want to politicize the regulation on baseless grounds as it is intended for the safety of all road users, we need to break the political agenda that some wish to place on safety and saving lives!

african road
While road safety is increasing in Africa, there is still much needed efforts required especially to involve young people in road safety.

Much respects to the youth associations which even demanded an increment in the penalty fees! #Staysafe

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