On average, there is a need for breakdown services in Kampala every four hours, according to Roger Kawuma Nsereko, the Commandant of Traffic Police in the Kampala Metropolitan area. This often requires immediate attention to restore traffic flow, since most roads are narrow. According to Nsereko, traffic police only have four breakdown vehicles that are only used in exceptional cases.
“They are specifically for heavy-duty vehicles. They can’t be called for duty every five minutes because we have many breakdown occurrences in the area. And we appreciate the wear and tear because we might fail to use them the next time we get a heavy-duty vehicle that breaks down, “he said.
As a result, police heavily depend on private breakdown service providers despite the fact that there is no regulatory framework for their operations. Nsereko notes that the absence of the regulations has led to several shortcomings among the private breakdown service providers, prominent among which is the use of vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition; operating from non-gazetted spaces, especially around police stations; and driving without licenses.
He says that because the need for breakdown services is growing, police now focus on how well private service providers can do their jobs.
Nsereko says that even though private breakdown service providers work with the police, their trucks are not listed in the Traffic and Road Safety Act Part VI Clause 123 as authorised emergency vehicles.
The act describes an authorised emergency motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, trailer, or engineering plant for the police, fire brigade, ambulance, vehicles of the armed forces, and such other motor vehicles, trailers, or engineering plants as may be designated by the Minister of Works in consultation with the chief licencing officer by statutory order.
Nsereko says that even though the act doesn’t cover the vehicles of private breakdown service providers, the police have no choice but to work with them because of the need.
Similarly, Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA also lacks regulations for breakdown services, according to the senior physical planner at KCCA, Villey Agaba. He, however, says that the KCCA transport ordinance, which is still before the council, will also take into consideration the operations of the breakdown service providers.
Abdul Basudde, one of the private breakdown service providers, says that since professional breakdown vehicles are very expensive, they often convert trucks that were initially meant for other purposes. Internationally, breakdown services are regulated. For example, in the United Kingdom, where they are commonly known as recovery vehicles, the operators have to maintain their vehicles in some conditions despite the fact that they are exempted from some legal obligations.
Breakdown vehicles are subjected to frequent basic checks, which they must pass for the renewal of their licenses. There are also walk around checks, whose frequency depends on the weather conditions, to ensure the road worthiness of the vehicles at all times.
“The checks include, as a minimum, the condition of lights, tires, checks for air and fluid leaks, mirrors, and windscreen wipers. “The towing equipment on the vehicle and its security are also checked,” part of the regulations state.
Though some of these trucks have a flatbed, they are different from car carriers, which move multiple new or used vehicles in routine transport operations. Unlike in Uganda, where most breakdowns are inappropriate, in the UK there are five general types of such trucks based on the type or size of the vehicle to be towed. The Boom uses an adjustable boom with a crane to recover vehicles from a ditch or any place the vehicle cannot be safely reached by backing up.
There are wheel-lifts, which are also called spectacle lifts or underlifts, which use a hook-and-chain to create a large metal load that can be fitted under the front wheels to support them, drawing the front or back end of the vehicle clear of the ground by an inflated pull so it can be towed.
There’s also the Integrated, which is a boom and wheel-lift incorporated into one unit. These are also known as snatchers. Then flatbeds, which have the entire back of the truck fitted with a bed that can be hydraulically inclined and slid back to ground level, are mostly used for completely immovable vehicles that are badly spoiled from accidents. Finally, the lift flatbeds use a boom wheel-lift frame to lift the vehicle vertically and load it on the bed. This type of truck removes parallel-parked vehicles.
Breakdown services worldwide are mainly run as private businesses, except for major highways and toll roads like the Entebbe express highway, where the road authorities may operate the breakdown trucks for that stretch of road.