High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

Road and vehicle safety in Kampala with Michael Wanyama

In the final episode of season 5, we speak with road and vehicle safety activist, Michael Wanyama from AutoSafety Uganda. We discuss how the impact of used and unsafe vehicles on the roads in Uganda is often missed from the discussion around road safety and rising fatalities, as well as  their contribution to rising emissions. Also Michael talks about his work training local mechanics and improving regulations in the industry.

Below is an excerpt of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Holger Dalkmann
We also have an import of second hand vehicles and non safe vehicles. What is the role of the vehicle part from your perspective?

Michael Wanyama
What is the vehicle part playing? I think it’s multi-dimensional. Second hand vehicles, actually you find that about 90% of the vehicles that come into the country are second hand, mostly coming from Asia, Japan, some from Europe. But you find that the regulation around this is that we have a 15 year cap on the age of the vehicles coming to the country.

And this only affects light vehicles. And then there’s not really any reasonable evidence on pre-shipment inspections, some of them come when they already have problems. And so when they come here they are going to be subject to, you know, the poor infrastructure. I’ve already mentioned about the poor condition of roads.

This has an effect on how safe this can be and the kind of emission that is coming out of them. And then also you find that our local technical workforce the mechanics in, they don’t have enough capacity in terms of knowledge, in terms of the skills and tools to do proper maintenance on these. So you find that in a short span, these vehicles tend to be more dangerous to the environment and to the people’s lives more than they could be in exporting countries.

You’ll find that if you tested most of the vehicles in the country, I don’t think you would get even 30% that would pass the tests. We have about 2.3 million vehicles in the country, but most of them are in poor states. So you find that when they come used, they come with problems and then they come here to run poorly maintained roads, and then the problems increase.

We are so excited about the new mobility trends, including electric mobility, which is really good because a lot of the emissions will be avoided. But again, it’s like we are ignoring the elephant in the room. We have this problem of these used vehicles that are highly emitting and since we don’t have any policies on the end of life for vehicles, so we are still stuck with them. By the time we transition to, say, electric mobility the damage that would have been done, something that is a very big burden to bear.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the work you’re doing with mechanics in Kampala and what you hope to achieve?

There’s a very big connection between the states or the mechanical condition of the vehicle and how safe it can be on the road. And then also the amount of emissions that are coming out of it.

And so what we are doing, since it’s just in its early stages, we are engaging the mechanics, but also the government as well, because if they can adopt this and set up a system that can scale it up. Because as a small organisation we cannot do much. So we are kind of bridging that gap. The government can take it on and set up a system that can fully regulate what the mechanics are doing.

For instance, right now, we have already partnered with the Minister of Works and Transport and the registration of mechanics and garages is ongoing. They are getting to know what’s really happening in the informal sector because the repair of vehicles and maintenance is still dominated by the informal sector.

Just very, very few motorists can afford to go to the well-organised garages that are maybe attached to the vehicle dealerships and all that. But most of them can easily go to the roadside mechanic who doesn’t have the tools or doesn’t have proper equipment or even the knowledge. And you find that the complexity of modern vehicles necessitates for someone to have the proper skills and the tools like they need to do specific repairs or maintenance.

So what we do is that we try to make them catch up with the key issue then, because many of them are smart, they can easily learn. They just need to be directed. So we give them guidance on what they need to consider while doing repairs that are going to enhance safety and then keep the emissions contained.