Last Updated on: 21st May 2023, 03:04 pm
Northern Uganda, May 21, 2023: Despite many attempts by the Police and a series of advocacies by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the importance of helmet use, many boda-bodas are yet to embrace the safety gear.
These boda-bodas, often carrying passengers and goods continue to be part of Uganda’s ever-worrying road crash statistics. To many of them, wearing a helmet while on the road is discomforting.
However, a study has shown that motorcycle helmets when used can lead to an estimated 42 per cent reduction in risk of fatal injuries. Also, it can cause an estimated reduction in the risk of non-fatal head injuries by 69 per cent.
In trying to deal with the myths that helmets block riders’ vision, the Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative (GHVI) in 2013 trained Ugandan riders on road safety and convinced them to wear helmets.
The training was part of the efforts to stop the carnage without banning bikes altogether, GHVI revealed.
Recently, in Uganda’s northern region, according to some bodaboda riders, helmets can make one lose focus, while others say, it’s inconveniencing as while riding it keeps the temperature warm.
Siraj Ojok is a boda rider from Tropical Paradise stage, Lira City. He said helmets make twisting the head very hard in case you have to make a corner. “Helmet’s face shield is very weak and easily gets dust inside which affects focus.”
Simon Anguzu, another rider in Arua City revealed that despite the provision of this protective item by the manufacturers, the majority of his colleagues do not appreciate the use of it as they prefer riding without it.
“Most of the bodabodas ride without helmets, and side mirrors. They believe helmets block the ears from listening to the environment, while the majority have removed the side mirrors, stating that it makes riding difficult especially at the time of overtaking and negotiating corners,” Anguzu, who has one, noted.
Helmets are designed to help prevent injuries to your head if a serious fall or crash occurs, stopping permanent brain damage or death. For side mirrors, its relevance is for monitoring activities behind a rider.
In one of his quotes about helmets, James Stewart, the late American actor, said:
We all look the same with helmets on.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 36,560 people were killed on the roads in 2018, and 2.71 million road crash victims sustained injuries that required a visit to medical facilities. This was attributed to reckless riding by motorists.
Further, Milton Otim, a boda rider in Lira City urges his colleagues to always ride with key safety items. Otim said some motorcycle sellers give free helmets and other safety items when you purchase a ride.
“One time while putting on a helmet, one of my friends got a crash but his head was protected. This confirms that the helmet is also helpful at times,” Otim explained.
Otim, however, decries the high prices of riding gears like helmets and side mirrors, noting that government should come in to help them.
Currently, in Lira City, the price of a helmet ranges between shs25,000 and shs30,000. These prices are similar in different markets across northern Uganda.
According to Boniface Okello who sells helmets and different spares and items at BSE General Service Company Limited located in Kitgum stage, Lira City, prices of equipment always increase depending on their demand.
“Most boda boda flood to buy these items when police kick off the operations,” Okello told TND News.
Wece Robinson, a driver expressed his disappointment with motorcycle riders who wear helmets and those who do not have one, saying they are all reckless.
“They don’t want to leave the way for vehicles to pass, it’s us drivers to doge the boda bodas which to some extent may not work in ending the crashes.”
“I feel unsafe on a boda whose rider has no helmet for me and him. I have always had a strange feeling before I reach my destination,” Stella Awino, a nursery school teacher in Lira, revealed.
Because of her loss, she wants the use of helmets to be “mandatory for both riders and passengers”.
“I lost a brother to a motorcycle crash in 2020. His forehead got badly damaged and died on the spot, we mourned him and said ‘Maybe he would survive had he worn a helmet’.”
David Mwesigwa – Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Administration and Management Sciences at Lira University in his July 2019 Survey on Helmet Usage, Boda-boda motorcyclists in Lira and Hoima Municipalities (now Cities), found that inadequate helmet usage has placed growing stress on authorities in traffic management to improve the safety of motorcyclists by guaranteeing that road use transforms into a gratifying journey between destinations.
Mwesigwa, in his survey, recommended that for the practical application of interventions, helmet usage should become a precondition for every commercial motorcyclist using any road in Uganda.
Meanwhile, statistics from the North Kyoga Region indicate that about 159 cases of road crashes were recorded from January-March, 2023.
SP Jimmy Patrick Okema, the region’s police spokesperson said 18 riders were arrested and handed over to the Courts of Law for being defiant to the traffic rules.
“We have the laws, and we have enforced them but cases of crashes increase each day. Last week alone (a week in March), 6 fatal crashes occurred, 5 of them were serious while one was minor.”
This, Okema said, is a very big number to them as traffic supervisors, adding that laxity has been observed among riders and enforcers mainly due to logistical challenges.
When asked about the causes of road crashes by riders, Okema said over speeding, recklessness, and that pedestrians don’t respect road regulations and rules.
He attributed other causes to potholes and fatigue, among others
Peter Tebigamba who works with Safeway Rightway, a Non-governmental Organization founded in 2013, there have been collaborations between the World Bank’s global road safety partnerships and TotalEnergies to improve road safety in Uganda.
The collaborations, he said, have been with the vision, among others of achieving a crash-free road network in Uganda. “The issue of helmets has been part of the conversations when it comes to road safety in Uganda because it is a critical safety gear for a rider.”
“We have seen over time helmet usage has been very low and we need to encourage more riders to adhere while enforcement is tightened. On the other hand, we must also recognize that over the last few years, there has been improvement in this area,” Tebigamba said in an interview.
In 2021, Uganda Traffic Police communicated that any person seen riding without a helmet, side mirrors and recklessly will be liable to an express penalty of forty thousand (40,000) shillings only.
This story has been done with support from ACME under its Road Safety Training Reporting program in Uganda.