On 20 October 2003 a news item appeared on the Ghanaweb titled “150 Ghanaians die from road accident every month”. A look through Ghanaweb will also reveal that accidents happen with depressing regularity eg Dr Vormawor dies in accident, NUGS President Dies In Motor Accident (Ghanaweb 27 October 2003). The statistics are alarming. What we have is the equivalent of the population of an average-sized town in Ghana being killed every year in road accidents. Despite occasional outrage, little seems to be done to ensure safety on Ghanaian roads. What are the causes and what can be done? It must be acknowledged that motor vehicle accidents don't just happen. They are caused. Sometimes they are caused by a vehicle's mechanical problems. However, a high proportion of accidents are directly blameable on human factors. The clearest example includes drunken drivers, intoxication with drugs and alcohol, speeding and fatigue. Drink driving cases usually increase during festive times, Easter and Christmas. The degree of acceptance of this dangerous and reckless driving is not always consistent. How can one explain the comparative tolerance of speeding and drunkenness by drivers and in some cases by passengers? A friend who has just returned from Ghana had occasion to question a speeding driver on the Accra -Cape Coast road. He was shocked at the deadly silence maintained by the passengers in the face of an obvious display of dangerous driving. He was even more surprised at the reaction of fellow travellers when he questioned the driver. There were people saying “who do you think you are?; “too known”. Since the driving did not improve he had no choice but to get off at Apam Junction. A very good decision. Unfortunately for the others the vehicle he had just left was involved in a collision not very long after. This accident was not serious and there were only minor injuries. He was delayed but at least he got to his destination without being involved in an accident. Other factors affecting road safety include the road system, driver training and licensing, pedestrian awareness and physical disabilities eg poor eyesight of drivers. Many roads in Ghana have become death traps with potholes dotted along the length and breadth of the roads. Broken-down vehicles or fallen trees could be seen blocking roads. Road building equipment are left on roads and trenches are left uncovered or without warning signs. Road signs, on the very few occasions they are present, are often unhelpful if not deceptive. Some of the new roads are very poorly built and soon lapse into disrepair, posing danger to road users. The whole driver licensing system in Ghana needs a complete overhaul. There are too many unlicensed/unqualified drivers with little or no knowledge of road rules in Ghana. Some people even get their licences without having even taken that flawed driving test. This means the wrong people are acquiring licences for which they are not qualified to hold. There are a number of drivers on the roads with very poor eyesight or an insufficient field of vision eg poor vision for night driving, and there is no mechanism to check this. The failure of users to comply with basic road safety legislation is another cause of accidents. Finally, lack of resources and ineptitude coupled with corruption on the part of officials have combined to render ineffective vehicle examination and enforcement of road rules. Effects The effects of accidents are very well documented and I do not intend to go into details but the main effects include physical pain and disfigurement due to traumatic injuries; physical disabilities (temporary and permanent) which prevent normal activities, like walking and working, financial problems due to wrecked property, medical care, auto repair or replacement, and lost time from work death of friends or family members, some are the breadwinners. Scarce medical and technical resources are used up at the crash site and in hospital, limited foreign currency is used up importing dressings, drugs and vehicle parts. Innocent children are often direct victims of road mishaps and many become orphaned from these accidents. This imposes harsh social conditions made much worse in a country without social security benefits. Road casualties, whether dead or injured, represent a cost to society amounting to billions and an incalculable human cost. What needs to be done Legislation should be passed soon to make wearing of seat belts compulsory in all cars and mini buses. There is evidence that wearing seatbelts reduces the impact in the case of accidents. Enforcing the seatbelt rules will also help in the overloading of taxis, cars and minibuses. Legislation should also be passed to require a compulsory eye testing for all drivers either every three years or at time of licence renewal. There is no use passing laws if they are not to be enforced. We might need to review existing legislation and put in place appropriate enforcement regimes. The police are very highly visible on Ghanaian roads but unlike most developed countries their visibility is for the purpose of extorting money from drivers not for enforcement of road rules. It is time that visibility becomes a deterrent to speeding, drink driving etc as is the case in many developed countries. The system will always present failures. Therefore we need to change attitudes and behaviour of road users pedestrians and drivers for the better. The media must use the medium to reshape the minds of the people towards road safety. Sustained public awareness campaign and information dissemination must be undertaken. Road safety must be made an an integral component of driver training. Public education plays a big part in educating the driver on safety and getting the driver to obey the traffic laws. There will always be people who will drive recklessly but it is important that the community gets involved in this. I will suggest the introduction of the safe community concept (a concept which promotes injury prevention and insists that it is not acceptable to drink and drive. . Educating drivers and the public on driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. To overcome effects of fatigue drivers on long trips should also take a break after every two hours. The Stop, Revive, Survive, slogan in Australia or some similar slogan could be adopted. We could begin teaching road safety in the schools even at nursery level. We can integrate traffic education in the contents of the different disciplines or curricular areas in the schools just as we used to do in Civics lessons. High-risk accident sites (black spots) should be identified and measures taken to limit the carnage on those sections of the road. This is very important for it is government (local/central) that builds and has the responsibility to maintain these roads. It also has responsibility for ensuring that vehicles that ply these public roads meet certain minimum standards. In this respect they must also accept some responsibility for the carnage on the roads. In established democracies, victims of road traffic accidents have taken action against agencies responsible for roads where causes of accident have been traceable to such facilities as uncovered drainage system or pothole. Substantial damages were awarded against a local government agency for not filling a pothole leading to an accident. With rapidly advancing frontiers of global democratisation, the time is not far away when road maintenance may pose legal problems on responsibility and liability for many road authorities in Ghana. It is time, It is time, especially with Christmas period not far away, we all got together to work on reducing the carnage on Ghanaian Roads. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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