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Death in traffic crashes not God’s will

Death in traffic crashes not God’s will

Photo: After the bus crashed in Kamudini, Oyam, Lango. © The Monitor


Reckless drivers continue to take precious lives.  News just came in that a speeding driver killed 21 of his passengers, and seriously injured 49 others, when he overturned his bus on Saturday night in Lwakhakha, Bungoma, Kenya, across the international border from Lwakhakha, Manafwa, Bugisu, Uganda. The Kenya Bus Company vehicle, with at least 70 passengers, had set off from Mbale, and was travelling to Nairobi. The time was 8 p.m. It was dark.  Eyewitnesses reported that the driver was speeding at a corner. The result was predictable. 


Less than twenty-four hours earlier, another reckless driver had been behind the wheel of a Roblyn Bus Company vehicle. The time was midnight. The driver, who had been reportedly talking on a mobile phone, was speeding through the darkness in Kamdini in Oyam, Lango, Uganda. He rammed the bus into a stationary trailer, killing many passengers and severely injuring others. The current death toll stands at 19. Many of the injured are critically ill. 


The pain we felt in the aftermath of premature road deaths a week earlier, was made worse by the violent killings of these passengers this past weekend. Our hearts go out to their families and invite Ugandans and our rulers to focus our minds and actions on this preventable road carnage. 


 “That was God’s will,” people say. “If it is your day, nothing can stop you from dying,” others declare. I disagree. The notion that the dead were predestined to meet their premature ends excuses the recklessness that allows our country to have bad and dangerous roads, on which we recklessly drive many unroadworthy vehicles, or fly perfectly good ones at speeds that challenge basic laws of physics. Such declarations give comfort to those who ignore traffic signs and rules as they drive cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles as though possessed by a death wish. 


When uttered by religious leaders presiding over funeral services, they appear to blame God instead of the real cause of these deaths – Satan who, as we read in the Book of Job constantly goes “to and fro on the earth” and walks “up and down on it.”  It is the devil that drives people to drink and drive, to suspend their intellects and yield to impulsive urges to drive at suicidal speeds or to overtake vehicles without visual assurance that it is safe to do so.


The inevitability of death due to old age should not lull us into believing the fallacy that premature death is not preventable. Death is preventable. Death is deferrable. Death is not God’s will. Humanity’s sin caused death. Happily, besides the second chance we were offered by God himself, through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord also gave doctors, nurses, and other health scientists the knowledge and ability to prevent death through treatment and prevention of previously deadly diseases. 


To illustrate this fact, let us look at a few examples of the marvelous achievements we have registered in our lifetime. The death rates of babies and children under five years of age in most countries have dramatically declined over the last 40 years. This has not happened because God has forgotten to kill babies and children. It has been achieved through the hard work of professionals and governments that have applied science to improve the social-economic circumstances of families, and to improve the health of children through better nutrition, immunization, and treatment of previous killer diseases. 


The same applies to many communicable and non-communicable diseases that were claiming lives of adolescents and adults. An obvious example is the dramatic reduction of death from complications of HIV/AIDS. Without treatment, a person with HIV/AIDS is at risk of very premature death. With effective and consistent treatment, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a person with HIV/AIDS can have a full lifespan, just like their HIV-negative peers. 


More recently we have witnessed a dramatic reduction of Covid-19 cases among people who have been immunized against the causative virus, and fewer deaths among those admitted with the illness. This and numerous other examples show that death can be prevented and delayed. 


Likewise, road traffic injuries and deaths can be prevented. God has given us the knowledge to do so. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a package called “Save LIVES”, which stands for “Speed management, Leadership, Infrastructure design and improvement, Vehicle safety standards, Enforcement of traffic laws, and post -crash Survival.” This is a package that ought to be mandatory reading, and examinable teaching for high school students and, again, prior to licencing as a motor vehicle driver. 


Uganda’s executive and legislative branches ought to prioritize road safety, complete with a willingness to impose very drastic measures to save lives. Driver retraining and examination in defensive driving, and comprehensive medical health certification, including eye examination by qualified eye specialists, should be absolute requirements for obtaining or renewing a driver’s licence.


Installation of alcohol ignition interlock devices (IID) should be a mandatory requirement for all motor vehicles that are driven on Ugandan roads.  This is a breath test device that is connected to a vehicle’s ignition system. The vehicle can only start after the driver blows into the interlock and is found to have a blood alcohol level below a pre-set limit, which is usually 0.02 grams per deciliter. The criminal-minded may ask a sober person to blow into the interlock on their behalf. The system, located on the driver’s side, should be programmed to demand that the driver intermittently blows into it at random times while the vehicle is moving. 


Driver-related measures like these, together with expansion and maintenance of roads, proper marking of lanes, provision of proper pedestrian sidewalks, non-negotiable insistence on roadworthy vehicles, and uncompromising enforcement of traffic laws, will prevent premature deaths and disabilities. We really need a low threshold for suspending drivers’ licences, impounding motor vehicles, and imposing very high fines that will force people to think twice before they drink and drive, or push the accelerator pedal without regard for their safety and that of others. 


Should buses and trucks be prohibited from the roads between 7 pm and 7 am? Should speed governors be installed in all vehicles in Uganda? Should the maximum speed on highways be decreased to 80 km per hour? These, and other measures should be debated by parliament and, hopefully, imposed to save lives. It is within our means to retire the false notion that road carnage is part of God’s will. We can do it. 

© Muniini K. Mulera

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