According to Charles Ssebambulidde, the spokesperson of the traffic directorate, at least five in 10 motorists use their phone while driving. He adds that phone usage is the biggest driving distraction among Ugandan motorists.
“When you use your phone while driving, by the time you remember to put the phone down, you have already knocked a pedestrian or rammed into another car. Driving and phone usage are two incompatible aspects you must avoid,” Ssebambulidde advises.
While there may be no available statistics of accidents or deaths that have been recorded as a result of phone usage while driving, Ssebambulidde advises: “As soon as you enter your car, put your phone in silent mode so that you are not tempted to answer a call or read a text message.” He adds that when one is caught using their phone while driving, the punishment is a penalty of between Shs100,000 and Shs200,000 or being charged for reckless driving in the courts of law or sometimes, both.
Driving while eating
Michael Tumwine, a motorist, observes that driving while eating is one of the distracted driving habits that is rarely talked about. He recalls a scenario when he knocked a motorcyclist on Lugogo bypass after buying fast food at Forest Mall, Lugogo.
“I had had a busy day at work and had skipped lunch. I decided to buy a snack and eat it as I drove home. At some point, I tried to get some food from the co-driver’s seat. The car veered off to the left and I hit a motorcyclist. Although he was not injured, I had to part with Shs50,000 to pay for damages to his motorcycle,” Tumwine recalls.
Noise in the car
Distracted driving can also be in form of noise in your car. It can be produced either by occupants or passengers, including children and adults or the music played. However, like phone usage and driving while eating, noise in the car can be controlled.
“When I am driving with children in the car, I caution them against making noise. That way, I have an enabling environment to allow me drive cautiously. If it is adults who like music, the volume at which it plays is moderate or I encourage them to listen to music on their phones using earphones,” says Jennifer Kemigisha, a motorist.
Moses Sserumaga, a motorist, says because we live stressful lives nowadays, one might be forced to sit behind the wheel with so much distractions such as worrying about how to feed the family, work or personal matters.
“If you have a lot on your mind, it is safer not to drive at all. It is advisable to get someone else to drive or leave the car at home,” advises Paul Kwamusi, a road safety consultant at Integrated Transport Systems Limited in Ntinda.
According to safestart, an online portal, general distraction or being lost in thought accounts for 62 per cent of general road accidents, which the portal says is the biggest cause of distracted driving fatalities and sometimes, death.
Ssebambulidde clarifies that in an event that you cause an accident on the road that leads to death, regardless of whether it was distracted driving or not, which in traffic and law terms is considered as reckless driving, you either face jail as a punishment or financially compensate the family of the deceased or face both punishments.
Winstone Katushabe, the Commissioner of Transport Regulation and Road Safety under the Ministry of Works and Transport, interjects, warning that under the amended laws which are expected to be tabled before Parliament by the end of 2019, causing death due to reckless driving will call for a custodial sentence of not less than five years once proved guilty.