KAMPALA, UGANDA — As the number of motorcycles are increasing on Ugandan roads especially in Kampala Metropolitan Area, the number of riders without helmets surges in equal measures. The Uganda Traffic Police for over years has embarked on operations to crackdown non-compliant riders and in the process most of them have had their bikes confiscated, subjected to express penalty fines but majority seem not to have learnt from previous lessons.
The recent Police Crime report revealed that road crashes from 2020 to 2021 have increased by 42% in Uganda which is so alarming. The number of riders without crash helmets arrested by Police increased from 40,073 in 2021 to 41224 in 2022 and motorcycle crashes too saw an increase from 1390 in 2021 to 1404 people in 2022.
Other studies have emphasized that Motorcycle helmet use for adults and children can lead to estimated 42% reduction in risk of fatal injuries and 69% reduction in risk of non fatal head injuries.
According to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) report entitled “Kampala Road Annual Safety report for 2021″ which was recently released, shows that a survey conducted in two phases from various areas of the city, the results indicated that in round one only 1 Percent of the passengers wore helmets properly, 46 percent of the riders wore them properly.
In the second phase only 2 percent of the passengers wore the helmets properly while 52percent of the riders properly wore the helmets
The survey shows that majority of the riders operating on tarmacked areas of Busega – Nateete in Rubaga Division, Kampala district don’t wear safety helmets although some have them in their possession.
Those who are non-compliant on helment usage are found mainly on the stretch from Busega Round-About to Nateete and those from Nateete heading or coming from Kampala using Wakaliga road and Masaka Road from Kibuye side
On interviewing the cyclists, some understand the importance of wearing safety helmets which they use often, some know their importance but are reluctant to use them. They only use them to avoid penalty fines while other are still ignorant about their usage.
Victoria Ssemujju, a boda boda rider at Nateete Traffic Lights stage, contends that helmets are some of the tools used by the law enforcement officers to measure compliance among the riders which has made some of their colleagues to hate these equipments.
“Here in Kampala, helmets have no great importance because when an operation is launched, the Police arrest riders with and without helmets and charge them with several traffic offences. I have been arrested several times because of not having an helmet and I remember at one occasion, Police fined 100,000 Shillings for what was refered to as careless driving.”
He added that wherever he kick start his bike, he makes sure that he rides carefully to avoid being involved in a crash which may lead to loss of his life.
Vincent Kintu, one of the cyclists in Nateete Central says that safety helmets are good but associates them to worsening health complications of riders including constant headache among others.
Experts have not yet released a conclusive report on this.
“Before defending ourselves against damages of any crush-crash, we need to first mind about our current health state. I used to frequently put on my helmet but ever since I developed this health state, I no longer use them regularly.”
He adds that unless when they are special helmets which can cater for people with such complications, many of them will not be able to abide with this legal requirement.
Ronald Ntambazi, a private rider from Busega insist that some of the safety helmets on Ugandan market are fake which creates almost no difference to a person not wearing it incase of a crush crash because of being of poor quality
However, there are some riders who believe that it’s their duty to always put on helmets wherever they are riding.
Godfrey Munyenya, one of those who always put on the safety helmets blamed his colleagues for being careless to the extent that they buy helmets but always keep them in between the handle bars of their bikes.
“I would like to have a better helmet than this but the problem is that I don’t have money to acquire a new one. This one has no shield because it got damaged and I have failed to find one in all spare shops around.” Munyenya said
On dangers which may result from using a faulty helmet, George William Musisi says that he knows very well that it’s very dangerous but currently he has no alternative.”
After sustaining injuries, your friends and relatives can contribute towards treatment but currently nobody is willing to support me in acquiring a standard helmet.”
Denis Musinguzi, a businessman who uses a motorcycle to work says that although they have helmets, many of them can’t separate the certified helmet from fake ones on the market.
“We always look out for the cheaper ones not quality. Secondly we have not been able to get any organizations or body to take us through the qualities of a good helmet.”
He adds that they buy helmets at a price range of UGX 30,000 upwards depending on the manufacturer, country of origin and durability.
Karim Ssekyanzi contends that he wears his safety helmet to avoid being fined huge sums of money by law enforcement officers who always hold operations on most of the roads in their area.
Godfrey Senyonyi, another cyclist operating at Nateete – Nakawuka stage says that they always put on safety helmets to ride safely on the dusty road without dirt entering into their mouth and nostrils
“If its not helmets , dirt from this road (Nateete- Nakawuka) may require you to always take a shower (impossible) every route you make due to the too much dust on the road which may inconvenience us in the course of duty.”
Some passengers interviewed contend that although they need helmets for their safety while traveling on motorbikes, they come with alot of challenges thereby forcing them to travel without them.
Patience Musiime, a resident of Nateete Kigagga Zone working in Kampala City Center notes that boda bodas are her favorite means of transport but she rarely wears helmets because she doesn’t posses any and the cycles she uses, the riders don’t posses passenger helmets.
“In most cases as i move to board a motorcycle, one thing that comes in my mind is that how fast is the rider not how safe will i reach my destination. i always look out for smart and new boda bodas but i have never asked for a passengers’ helmet.”
John Tamale from Busega Dome says that he has no problem with wearing an helmet but his main concern is hygiene because he blamed most public cyclists of being dirty to the extent that they don’t clean their personal helmets thus making it difficult for one to think that they can maintain the second one in good shape.
“It could have been better for us passengers to buy our own helmets but the problem is that they are not portable to be carried wherever you go. Secondly they are abit expensive and many of us may not afford them.”
He, however, adds that if its by law that all passengers have to wear helmets, they will have no option but to only board cycles with two helmets.
Herbert Mukasa, one of the traders dealing in helmets in Ndeeba, Rubaga Division Kampala district reports that majority of their customers are boda boda cyclists followed by women passengers, men and parents buying for their school going kids.
“Most of the ladies say that they want to buy their own helmets because the usual ones with most of the riders don’t fit them , some want helmets to protect their make up from dirt/dust, others want them for safety purposes.”
He adds that some customers prefer half helmets with complaint that with the full ones they can’t hear properly or be heard by their passengers incase of any communication.
Another dealer who identified himself as Abdulatif from Katwe says that most of the boda boda riders prefer cheaper helmets well as passengers and private motorcycle owners always look out for standard ones.
“Most of the helmets range from 25000 (twenty five thousand shillings) on wards depending on the quality and country of origin. Some customers come looking for helmets with several specifications like USB ports, handsfree, removable sponge and others.”
He further notes that they don’t have certified helmets on market in their area but the most expensive ones are those from Japan (quarter helmets) popularly used by bikers
“Once government makes it compulsory for all riders to have two helmets , we have hope that this will contribute to an increase in our sales since currently the majority of the boda boda riders only have one piece each.”
The traders reveal that they receive helmets from countries like Japan, China, India, Taiwan and many others.
Police speaks out
Rogers Kawuma Nsereko, the Kampala Metropolitan Traffic Police Commander advised all motorcyclists to always wear safety helmets while on the roads Instead of wearing them for police officers
“We have noted that these people always put on these helmets wherever they are approaching police officers. You need to value your lives because once you get involved in a crash, its your head to get damaged not that of the police officer and we have lost many cyclists as a result of this behavior.”
Nsereko also reveals that there are some riders who are still parading weaker points like being allergic to helmets, helmets blocking their listening ability.