The Traffic and Road Safety Act, 1998 (Amendment) Act, 2019 is a Bill to amend the Traffic and Road Safety Act, 1998, Cap 361. The Bill was passed by Parliament on the 29th January, 2020 and now awaits assent by the President of Uganda to become law.
From the outset, it is worth mentioning that the one of the significant changes in the Bill is, the maximum penalties for traffic offences have been increased across the board. This means that if convicted of a traffic offence, you stand to pay significantly more money than is paid under the law at present.
We outline below some of the clauses of particular importance to drivers, car owners, pedestrians, garage owners, owners of digital ride hailing services et al:
CHIEF LICENSING OFFICER
The Bill introduces a Chief Licensing Officer to handle matters relating to motor vehicle licensing and registration.
Change from driving permits to driving licenses
Firstly, the Bill proposes that driving permits will be referred to as ‘driving licenses’ going forward. Ostensibly, this is to harmonize with international standards and uniformity since many countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania issue driving licenses.
Drivers will be compelled to be in physical possession of a valid driving license and a copy of the registration book while driving or in charge of a motor vehicle
At present, one can drive with a copy of one’s driving license and if requested to by a uniformed police officer, present the original within fourty-eight hours.
The Bill states that a police officer in uniform can demand the production of an original valid driving license and a copy of the registration book in respect of a motor vehicle. If required by a police officer, the driver must provide the original copy of the registration book within 48 hours. Contravention of this clause, is an offence with a penalty, on conviction of, a maximum fine of Uganda Shillings One Million (UGX 1,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both.
Garages and dealers in car spare parts need to be licensed
When the Bill becomes law, the repair of cars, trading, manufacturing, dealing in new, second hand or reconditioned cars will be prohibited, unless one has an approved place of business, is in possession of a license issued by the Chief Licensing Officer and has a valid trading license. The penalty for contravening this clause, on conviction, is a maximum fine Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.
The rationale for this clause is to regulate this industry to attempt to curb the rampant theft and sale of stolen motor vehicles and motor cycle parts in the country.
Increased penalty for failing to notify a licensing officer of sale or disposition of vehicle
If one does not notify the powers that be, of change of ownership of one’s vehicle within fourteen days after the sale, both the owner and purchaser are liable, on conviction to a maximum fine of Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.
This means that purchasers have to be vigilant to ensure that they are officially registered as the owners of their new vehicles to be compliant.
Penalty for driving instructors or schools without a valid license
The punishment for teaching others to drive without a license, on conviction, has increased from a maximum of Uganda Shillings One Million (UGX 1,000,0000) to Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.
The penalty for running a driving school contrary to the Act, instructing another sans a valid instructor’s license, or being a licensed instructor, instructing a person otherwise than as a student enrolled in a driving school, has increased from a limit of Uganda Shillings One Million (UGX 1,000,0000) to Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.
Be that as it may, the Bill gives a disclaimer that the Minister of Works and Transport may, by regulations, prescribe procedures and conditions for persons to undergo private driving instructions without attending licensed driving schools.
The Minister is empowered, in accordance with the Public Private Partnerships Act, 2015 to enter into an agreement with a private entity to undertake driver testing on behalf of the Government to issue driving licenses.
Provide for a driver’s license valid for five years
Under the current law, driving permits are valid for a year or three years from the date of issue.
The Bill adds a third alternative of five years before one has to renew one’s license. Further, the Minister may, by statutory instrument prescribe other validity periods for driving licenses, longer or shorter.
Renewal of driving permits
The Bill provides that if an individual is renewing one’s license for the first time, he or she gets to take the driving test again to gauge competence levels.
If for whatever reason (procrastination, it skipped one’s mind) a person has neglected to renew his or her driving permit for two years from the date of expiry, on application for renewal, he or she shall have to undergo theory and practical tests before the license can be renewed and he or she is allowed to retain the group of motor vehicles endorsed in the license.
The Minister shall, by regulations, prescribe special conditions and procedure for recognition and conversion of foreign driving licenses.
Penalty for driving a public service vehicle without a Group B driving license increased
A person who drives a public service vehicle with seating capacity of eight years and above, a private omnibus or goods vehicle must hold a driving license for a Group B motor vehicle valid for five years. Failure to do so is an offence, for which the penalty on conviction has been increased from a maximum of five years to seven years.
Penalty for not giving particulars of Permit endorsed by court when obtaining a new permit have been increased
A court before which a person is convicted of any offence under the Act endorses the particulars of the conviction on the convicted person’s driving permit.
A person whose driving permit is endorsed by such court (who has not previously become entitled under this Act to have a driving permit issued to him or her free from endorsement) who applies for or obtains a driving permit without giving the particulars of the endorsement entered on his or her driving permit commits an offence. The penalty on conviction has been amended from a maximum fine of UGX 600,0000 and imprisonment of twelve months or both to Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both. In both the current law and the proposed law, any driving permit so obtained shall be declared invalid by the court.
Boda bodas to obtain operator vehicle licenses
The Bill introduces Class M – commercial motorcycles (two wheeled) as a class of operator vehicle licenses.
Penalty for not registering your vehicle
The Bill states that the penalty, upon conviction, for possessing an unregistered motor vehicle, unless said vehicle falls within the exceptions under the Act, is a fine not exceeding Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. Applications for registration of the aforementioned vehicles are to be made to the Chief Licensing Officer.
You can now register your car as security for a loan under the newly rolled out ‘Security Interest in Movable Property Registry System – ‘SIMPRS’ at the Companies’ Registry.
The Bill compels a person with an interest, including through a lease, security or loan in a car or trailer to register the interest under the Security Interest in Moveable Property Act, 2019. The Registrar (of that system) is required to notify the Chief Licensing officer of returns of all registered interests. Upon receipt of the return and with proof of payment of registration fees, the Chief Licensing Officer then enters the interests in the relevant registration books
Penalties for offences with respect to registration plates have been increased
The penalties for, without lawful authority or excuse, for:
- making any registration plate which resembles a registration plate issued by the licensing officer;
- knowingly having in one’s possession a registration plate so issued;
- knowingly having in one’s possession a registration plate which resembles a registration plate so issued and which is likely to deceive;
- using any registration plate so issued which is altered or defaced;
- fraudulently or knowingly altering or defacing any registration plate so issued;
- fraudulently using, lending or permiting to be used a registration plate so issued; or
- buying or selling any registration plate which resembles a registration plate so issued and which is likely to deceive,
have been increased from a maximum sentence of three years for a first-time offender to not exceeding five years. The penalty for a second time offender has been increased to imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
Periodic inspection of motor vehicles for environmental and road safety compliance
A motor vehicle above the age of two years from the year of manufacture shall not be permitted on the road without a certificate of fitness issued in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Minister.
Licensing and regulation of uber
The Bill proposes that digital ride hailing companies such as Uber, Bolt must apply to the competent authority (the Department of Transport Regulation and Safety, under the Ministry of Works and Transport) for authorization to operate the online digital network in a manner to be prescribed by regulations.
That Authority shall:
- conduct background checks;
- require that the drivers hosted on the digital platform are accredited and issued with badges;
- require the applicant to submit a tax clearance from the Uganda Revenue Authority;
- require the applicant to obtain the relevant insurance; and
- to submit periodic reports
before granting a license to an applicant.
The drivers of these companies shall also be expected to apply to the competent authority for an operator’s license in a manner to be prescribed by regulations.
Failure to apply for a license for these drivers and anyone else who carries passengers or goods for hire or reward when not licensed to do so is an offence, which attracts a penalty of a maximum of Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000).
Giving false information or making an incorrect statement when applying is also an offence with liability on conviction for Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000).
Empower the Minister to organize public transport
The Minister, in organizing public transport is empowered, via regulations:
- to require the public transport providers to form companies, registered associations, partnerships, cooperatives, SACCOS in a manner to be prescribed by regulations;
- to require public transport providers to make special provisions for persons with disabilities;
The clause on requiring public transport providers to make vehicles disabled-friendly is a very welcome one, since for the longest time, there have been no provisions at all for persons with disabilities or differently abled passengers in the public transport sector.
Further, with regard to entry into the market, the Minister may, through regulations:
- specify conditions for entry into the transport sector;
- prescribe the criteria for qualification and requirements for entry into the transport sector in Uganda, including management, financial capacity and size and quality of fleet;
- prescribe operational standards to be followed by all entrants;
- provide a procedure for exiting the transport services industry, and
- prescribe conditions under which a driving license may be cancelled including for commission of a criminal offence.
Recovery of fares and willful damage to public service vehicle
Any person who fails to pay the fare for their trip in a taxi, cab, bus, train and more, on demand made by the owner of the motor vehicle or by the person authorised by the owner to receive that sum; or who wilfully damages any public service vehicle, commits an offence.
The Bill proposes to increase the penalty on conviction from a fine of not less than twice the fare and not exceeding UGX 500,000 to a maximum of Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000).
Increased penalty for touting
Both the present law and the Bill prohibit touting. Touting is defined to mean where an owner, driver or conductor, or person acting on behalf of the owner, driver or conductor of a public service vehicle authorised to carry passengers makes any noise or sound any instrument in order to attract the attention of the public or of a possible passenger, or by troublesome or frequent demands or by persistent following, holds out the vehicle for hire to the public, or attempts to induce any person to become a passenger of the vehicle in such a manner as to constitute a nuisance, or act in any way so as to cause annoyance or inconvenience to any person.
The Bill increases the penalty for this, on conviction, from a maximum of UGX 300,000 or imprisonment for six months or both to a fine of Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000).
This clause of the Bill is certainly not grounded in reality. Anyone who has ever taken a casual stroll on the streets of Kampala for even five minutes, is inundated with the cacophony that is taxi conductors calling out for passengers. This section has been maintained in the Bill yet it is not clear how it will be enforced.
The Bill defines reckless driving (a word which is not defined in the current law) as disregard for the rules of the road or driving without proper caution; and includes:
- driving over the prescribed limit;
- failure to use signals;
- disobeying traffic signs and signals;
- drifting into another lane;
- distracted driving;
- using a hand held mobile phone while driving;
- driving a car on a public road without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for other road users;
- driving while under the influence of drink or drugs contrary to the Act;
- failing to stop for a pedestrian at a designated pedestrian crossing.
Under the current law, on conviction, a person who causes death or bodily injury by reckless driving is liable to a fine of between UGX 1,500,000 to UGX 2,000,000 or imprisonment of between 2-5 years or both.
The Bill proposes to increase the sentence for causing death by reckless driving to imprisonment of a maximum of ten years.
The penalty for causing bodily injury has increased to a maximum fine of Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment or both.
The penalty for causing an accident by reckless driving is a maximum fine of Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) or a maximum sentence of one-year imprisonment or both.
The import of this clause is, drivers should be careful, one can find oneself having to pay two million shillings for driving while talking on their cell phone.
The Bill, like the present law, maintains the power of uniformed police officers’ to arrest, without warrant the driver of any car who commits the offence of reckless driving if the driver refuses to avail his or her name and particulars, or the police officer has reason to believe the information given is false, if the vehicle does not bear a number plate, for any other reason as the Minister may prescribe by regulations.
Driving with blood alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit and blood tests
The penalty for driving under the influence of alcohol above the prescribed limit on conviction is UGX 6,000,000 or maximum imprisonment of three years or both.
Uniformed police officers can require a driver to accompany him or her to a police station or hospital or clinic to provide a blood sample if the officer has reasonable cause to suspect the driver of having alcohol or drugs in his or her body, suspects the driver of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion.
That, notwithstanding, the police officer can require the same of any pedestrian, or any driver to provide a specimen of urine for testing his or her blood alcohol level with quick medical kits if the officer has reasonable cause to believe the person has been drinking beyond prescribed limits or has drugs in their body or is suspected of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion.
The Bill is silent on who meets the cost for the medical test at the hospital.
Where an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle and the police officer may require any person the officer has reasonable cause to believe was driving at the time, to accompany him or her to the police station, hospital to provide a blood sample for a test. Where such a person refuses, and the police officer has reasonable cause to suspect him or her of having alcohol in his or her’s body, the police officer can arrest him or her without a warrant, except where the said person is a patient at a hospital. Refusing to provide a specimen is an offence, with a liability upon conviction of Uganda Shillings Two Million (UGX 2,000,000) and failure to provide the specimen will be prima facie evidence that the accused’s blood level is above the prescribed limit, or he or she is under the influence of drugs.
Persons driving or who have an operator vehicle’s license (such as public omnibus, taxis, rental vehicles, boda-bodas, tourist vehicles), or a vehicle belonging to a ministry, department or government agency are required to have a zero-alcohol limit at all times when driving or in charge of a vehicle. It is also an offence to induce or entice said persons to drink any alcohol. Contravention of this is an offence with a liability on conviction of Uganda Shillings Four Million (UGX 4,000,000) or maximum imprisonment of 2 years or both for both the driver and the person who induced.
Police officers, in uniform, are, in a manner to be prescribed by regulations, permitted to impound the vehicle of persons who contravene that clause of the Bill.
It is worth noting that the ‘prescribed limit’ is not expressly defined, but is such proportion of alcohol, in such proportion of blood as the Minister shall prescribe by regulations.
Driving under the influence of drugs
The Bill clarifies that the drugs referenced in this clause are drugs prohibited under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2016 and the National Drug Policy and Authority Act and includes pharmaceutical drugs or prescribed drugs.
The penalty has been increased from UGX 1,200,000 or maximum sentence of two years or both, to a maximum fine of Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000) or maximum imprisonment of three years or both.
Penalty for careless use of vehicle, speeding, driving while disqualified or without a valid driving license increased
The penalty for careless use of the motor vehicle including using or parking on any road without reasonable consideration for other road users and speeding has been increased from UGX 600,000 to a maximum of Uganda Shillings Six Million (UGX 6,000,000) or maximum six months imprisonment or both.
ACCESS TO CARE WITHOUT REGARD TO ABILITY TO ABILITY TO PAY
The Bill states that accident victims shall have access to medical treatment at hospitals or other health facilities without proof of financial ability to pay until he or she have been stabilized.
This clause is much-needed because in many instances, accident victims are rushed to health care centers in critical condition, but they lack the funds to pay for treatment. It remains to be seen how the clause will be enforced.
DEMERIT POINT SYSTEM
The Bill proposes to put in place a system of assignment of demerit points on conviction for certain offences, which the Minister shall prescribe in due course, by regulations. The regulations shall provide for:
- the categorization of offences according to the degree of severity;
- a schedule of offences and the number of points deductible for each offence;
- the demerit points to be recorded in relation to an offence against any license held by that person;
- the manner of calculating the demerit points to be deducted.
SOME OF THE SECTIONS IN THE CURRENT LAW THAT THE BILL PROPOSES SHOULD BE REPEALED:
- Cancellation of registration for not renewing one’s license
- Refund of fees on cancellation of license
- It being a good defense for a person to say that he or she has a license for the previous licensing year, when charged with an offence for driving without a license.
- Granting licenses that permit employing a goods vehicle to carry passengers for a special purpose
- The sections relating to the National Road Safety Council
In sum, the Bill is a step in the right direction in some respects, for instance, regulating digital cab hailing services, licensing of garages, driving schools and instructors, increasing penalties for some offences. However, several clauses await regulations, which might make enforceability thorny if the Bill is assented to in its current form.
This alert provides general information only. It is not intended to provide advice with respect to any specific set of facts, nor is it intended to advise on all developments in the law.