What you need to know about driving in Uganda

Uganda is among the most visited destinations on the continent, boasting a diverse landscape ranging from majestic mountains to think forests. The country is blessed with a variety of tourist attractions within its many national parks. However, driving on Ugandan roads differs significantly from what you might be accustomed to in Europe or the USA.

While you may consider alternatives such as flying, using taxis, or renting a car with a driver when you are planning to travel around the country than driving yourself in Uganda, there’s an unparalleled sense of freedom and convenience that comes with having your vehicle or renting a car for self-drive. No schedules to coordinate, no waiting time, and the added thrill of spontaneity.

Having grown up in Uganda and visited all its corners on self-drive, I’m well-equipped to offer the best driving tips to ensure your driving experience in the country remains safe and enjoyable.

Rules and Regulations

The official driving regulations in Uganda closely resemble those found in many other countries around the world. A basic requirement includes ensuring your vehicle is roadworthy and insured, maintaining the speed limits, avoiding driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while using a phone, and wearing seat belts. It’s also mandatory to carry your vehicle’s insurance and driving license at all times, and you should be above 18 years of age to drive in Uganda.

In Uganda, driving is done on the left side of the road, a tradition inherited from the British which colonized the country. Additionally, car insurance covers the vehicle, not the driver, eliminating the need for personal insurance to drive in Uganda. This offers a chance for any person with a driver’s license to drive without the need to have personal insurance.

Among all the regulations, adherence to these guidelines is paramount.

  • Always fasten your seatbelt – this applies to all people in the car
  • Keep your licenses, and insurance papers on hand whenever you’re driving.
  • Avoid using a mobile phone without hands-free capability while driving.
  • Stick to driving on the left side of the road unless you overtaking
  • Never operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

All in all, it’s pretty simple but driving in Kenya is more about the local laws than anything else.

In summary, while driving in Uganda may seem easy, it primarily revolves around adhering to local laws.

Local laws

In reality, few of the above rules and regulations are followed, creating a situation where driving in Uganda often involves improvisation. Here are some local laws to keep in mind.

Drive on the Left, Most of the Time

Everyone drives on the left side of the road in Kenya, but when they encounter an obstacle such as animals, potholes, or traffic they can immediately switch lanes to avoid an obstacle. It’s important to remain alert, as vehicles ahead or approaching may suddenly swerve to avoid these obstacles, requiring heightened awareness. In dense traffic, I’ve witnessed a two-way street transform into a chaotic six-way thoroughfare. Drivers maneuver aggressively to navigate through narrow spaces, using the hard shoulder or unpaved tracks as an additional lane.

Animals Have the Right Of Way

Cows in the Road

Animals, such as goats, chickens, cows, and others, are prioritized on the roadways. Should you accidentally knock one, despite its presence being unexpected, you’ll face a real headache to deal with. Locals rely heavily on their animals, so in case you knock and kill an animal, you’ll be expected to compensate for the loss by buying the animal you’ve killed.

This dynamic introduces an additional layer of hazard awareness, requiring drivers to be vigilant for unexpected animal crossings, such as a chicken darting out from the bushes.

Motorbikes are Everywhere in Towns and Cities

Motorcycle taxis locally known as boda bodas are the best and cheapest way to move around Uganda and they are everywhere in the country. Expect them to overtake you from both sides and always use your side mirrors.

Overtaking on Uganda is more of A Game of Life

Driving in UgandaThere are opportunities for safe overtaking, but many drivers, including those of cars and Matatus (local minibusses), often take risks beyond reason. You will always see other drivers overtaking in a dark corner or where there is no space, causing other vehicles to slow down or pull over to avoid collision. Nonetheless, one must remain vigilant, particularly when being overtaken by the matatus, and be ready to give them space to pass and let them go.

There is no hurry in Africa

The adage “there is no hurry in Africa” holds. When you’re in a rush, it often feels like the world conspires against you. The idea is to reach your destination without fixating on a specific time; simply arrive when you do.

This mindset is really important when driving in Uganda. Embracing it can make your journey much smoother, allowing you to enjoy the vibrant scenes of local culture, bustling markets, and breathtaking nature along the way.