Ahmed Lubega, a heavy goods vehicle driver, opines that many truck and bus drivers in Uganda have the knowledge to start and move heavy goods vehicles but lack enough knowledge to ensure not only their safety, but also that of other road users.
For the 22 years he has been driving from border to border and within different East African countries, Lubega says he has encountered broken down trucks moving with double indicators or hazard lights turned on with vehicles still in motion, moreover driving in the middle of the road. This, to him, causes unnecessary traffic, especially on highways.
"I have seen truck drivers who turn on their indicators when they are already in the process of turning either to the left or right yet they are supposed to be turned on atleast 10 to 20 metres before turning to alert motorists driving behind of their intentions. This kind of driving is not safe at all," Lubega says.
According to Lubega, this is indiscipline and disrespect for other road users. As a means of communication, when a truck breaks down, most drivers will break tree branches and place them in the middle of the road to alert other motorists, yet a responsible driver ought to carry reflective triangles to use in case of any breakdown.
Lubega also believes that pedestrians and motorcyclists are moving hazards on the road by virtue of how carelessly they ride and cross the road respectively.
"From time to time, my eyes are on the side mirrors because motorcyclists overtake from any side. They do not seem be aware that they are only supposed to overtake from the right. In such scenarios, I slow down to allow them (motorcyclists) proceed and also avoid crashing other vehicles ahead," Lubega adds.
As a truck driver, Judith Nambuya says she gives way to other road users by driving on the extreme left side of the road when she cannot keep up with the speed of other drivers.
"Every driver on the road has different driving experience. I understand that if I am not patient, I may end up causing accidents. It is a driving skill I acquired recently," Nambuya says. She boasts of a spotless 16-year driving experience.
Besides patience, Racheal Percy Lwanga, also a truck driver says driving heavy goods vehicles is all about applying defensive driving skills. This involves not overtaking and negotiating corners at high speeds and being disciplined all the time.
Lubega, Nambuya and Lwanga were participants in the 150 heavy goods vehicle drivers and 20 driving instructors training that graduated from the Professional Driver Training Uganda (PTDU) project under the East African Curriculum for heavy goods vehicle drivers.
Launched in July 2017 by Safe Way Right Way, the training centre or project is an initiative aimed at building capacity of heavy goods vehicle and passenger drivers to upgrade driver skills.
The project is also aimed at increasing the number of skilled drivers within the East African region to improve road safety at a time when it (road safety) is a global concern.
"Heavy goods vehicle training teaches you to drop habits such as talking on phone or eating while driving. It also instils in drivers the aspect of minding about the life of other road users," Lwanga says.
Impact of the training
In June 2018, the training centre was licenced by the Ministry of Works and Transport to carry out heavy goods vehicle driver training. Since then to June, a total of 135 drivers have been trained, of which 30 drivers participated in refresher trainings and 105 in new licence acquisitions training. Of the 105 new driver licence acquisitions, 16 drivers found employment.
The project comes at a time when the 2015 Uganda Capacity Needs Analysis for Oil and Gas Sector Skills in Uganda by Mott MacDonald says there will be demand for workers in the transport sector for approximately 1,800 heavy goods vehicles for a period of 10 years.
Currently, the Ugandan workforce lacks the driving skills, knowledge and safety awareness required of the larger international transport companies. Majority of driving instructors lack standardised training where many learn on the job with no assessment of their practical skills.
"These trainings come in to polish and fine-tune the skills of heavy goods vehicle and passenger service vehicle drivers to reduce road accidents and improve road safety not only in Uganda but the region," says Winstone Katushabe, the commissioner of transport regulation and safety at the ministry of Works and Transport.
Qualification for heavy goods vehicle drivers
Sheila Owomugisha, the head of the school says to qualify to be a heavy goods vehicle driver, you need to have held a class B driving licence for three years and be above 25 years of age. Vehicles in class B include saloon cars, sport utility vehicles and crossovers.
"If you are 25 years and above, you qualify to train as a medium truck driver and heavy goods vehicles. You must have held a driving licence of class CM for three years and above 30 years before you qualify to drive Class CH vehicles," Owomugisha explains.
Class CM of vehicles include vehicles such as the Isuzu Forward, Isuzu Elf and Canters, while class CH includes heavy goods trailers and fuel tankers, among others.