MBALE – Almost every year, there are accidents involving Fuel Tankers or trucks along our busy roads, many of which result in burning and several people being killed.
And images broadcast by Ugandan media usually show the blazing tankers lighting up the night sky and in the morning following, crowds gaping at the twisted, smoldering wreckage of the tankers.
These deadly fuel truck accidents along various roads are not uncommon in Uganda and the wider East Africa region and no fewer than 500 Ugandans have died as a result of fuel tanker fire accidents in the past date.
Just last on 20 January, one person died while four others were injured after a fuel truck caught fire in Mbale district at Mile 6 along the Mbale-Tororo highway.
In October 2021, a transnational fuel tanker exploded into flames in Butende village, Ibulanku Sub County, Bugweri district along the Iganga-Bugiri highway killing several people.
In December 2001, 90 people were charred in the same village, sub-county when another fuel tanker went into flames at Buseesa village, Ibalanku sub-county in Iganga district.
In August 2019, more than19 people were killed after a fuel truck went up in flames when it lost control, crashing into three cars in western Uganda.
On June 29, 2013, in another incident in Namungoona 33 people – mainly bodaboda riders – were killed in the fuel tanker fire, which also destroyed about 20 motorcycles.
On October 24, 2010: A KK bus from Koboko collided with a fuel truck in Nwoya district and burst into flames killing 20 people and injuring 15 others.
On March 9, 2010: A fuel tanker burned down near Seeta trading centre in Mukono district killing three fire-fighters who were trying to put the fire out.
These numbers of fatalities could not be obtained from the police fire service, a situation that echoes the data challenge in the country.
But the history of such fires is common, for fuel tankers have highly flammable content and whose wide, moveable loads make them prone to rollovers, sometimes ramming into other road users or nearby buildings.
I want to put it on record that scores have been killed in Uganda in the past years whenever a damaged fuel tanker explodes as people swarm around while our traffic and government just count the numbers of the dead and injured, then look on.
These lethal traffic accidents frequently have happened in this country, where roads are narrow and potholed.
The litany of the disasters is unending. It would seem that while some other countries are battling with natural disasters that are hardly preventable, Uganda has been battling with this preventable man-made disaster without success.
The good Uganda police [Traffic] and government seem not to be taking serious efforts to end this disaster along the roads and even seem to have no good intentions to save people from the fuel tanker disasters that have become common on the roads.
And as usual our ‘good’ traffic police blame the accidents on speeding drivers, true but does this remain the only cause of these accidents?
If you travelled along Mbale, Busia, Malaba roads to Kampala, you will find heavy jam along the roads-where fuel tankers are also lined up in jam along the same road with other passenger vehicles and small owner vehicles without anybody suspecting that the fuel tanker can explode anytime and kill many.
A website Arrive Alive says although there are accidents involving all vehicle types, there are unfortunately many “multiple vehicle accidents involving fuel tankers” where you find collisions between trucks, Omni-buses, cars with fire explosions.
Even when it is obvious that discipline on the side of the drivers in a key important requirement for safer driving behaviour and increased road safety, our traffic police apart from merely picking bribes from the drivers, never think that an understanding between drivers of the different modes of transport of the braking distances is also important.
My grandmother [RIP] used to tell us at a fireplace that once you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents. –and I have seen traffic police learning nothing from these accidents along our roads.
She would add that “A fall of dry a leaf is a warning to the green ones,” our police and drivers seem not to have learnt anything from the accidents that take place involving fuel tank vehicles even when they are aware that the several accidents along the roads are a warning to many others.
There is hardly any main road in the country that has not experienced tanker explosion fires, from Busia through Mbale to Gulu and Masaka to Fort portal, Mbarara or Kabale and Busia/Malaba to Kampala, which is home to most vehicular movements and automobiles.
The catalogue of tank explosion fire disasters is long and worrisome. Yet, the disasters are largely preventable, with proper care by persons concerned and with an embrace of more safety-conscious measures.
Unpredictable traffic is the way of life here with the worst traffic jams every Fridays, Mondays and Wednesdays – it is worse when it rains even a little; you can even sleep in the road. Ugandans living in Kampala have their own word for traffic jam – the inevitable “evil”.
Fuel tankers compete with other drivers on the road and are susceptible to accidents due to infrequent operation, poor roads or driving conditions, inexperienced drivers, and poor equipment maintenance.
When with prophetic eye I peer into the future I see that many drivers, pedestrians and other road users shall continue to perish upon these roads if nothing is done to have fuel tankers designated time for travelling and the drivers taken through the basics of driving along our roads every time.
A survey report on Uganda roads 2012 and 2015 and another survey report in 2016 by Uganda Road fund reveal that Ugandan roads are among most dangerous in Africa.
The report shows that road users are not satisfied with most roads that are being constructed as they do not provide enough space for pedestrians and are narrow.
Despite this revelation, our ministry of works has paid a deaf ear to this and just gives out contracts for road construction without instruction to the engineers to provide space for pedestrians.
I want to add that our traffic rather than merely get bribes from the drivers, should make it a must to offer advice to all road users about “sharing the road”, this is important especially in light of the fact that there is a lack of understanding amongst motorists of the braking distance required by truck drivers.
Many motorists tend to ignore the fact that truck drivers need a much longer distance to bring their vehicles to a stop – and truck drivers need to ensure that their vehicles are indeed capable of stopping within the required distance.
Because if you are a truck driver and do not understand the importance of stopping distance – the runway distance required to come to a halt – then why are you in this business, quit and go to farming.
Traffic police should learn to reassess fuel tanker truck operators at regular interval or as required by national legislation, or when new equipment is supplied or new risks arise such as changes to working practices.
Although traffic reports indicate that whenever fuel trucks overturn or crash, residents quickly hurry to the scene to scoop free fuel and make a dime on the black market, with all the deaths and damage caused by the explosions, people do not take home any lessons.
I want to propose that the government must press the button harder on public awareness and safety precautions for all road users and residents and implement them for the safety of Ugandans.
And our government could also borrow a leaf from Western countries where vehicles carrying dangerous goods are fitted with electronic stability control (ESC) and anti-locking braking system (ABS), both high-tech braking systems.
This ensures that such trailers or trucks are stable on the road, on bends and their speed is regulated and the drivers should also be regulated and companies mandated to employ more than one driver for such routes to avoid accidents that might arise due to fatigue.
The author, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer