The escalating incidence of road accidents in Ghana is no news to a reasonable Ghanaian of ordinary intelligence. Despite increased road safety campaigns, the rate at which accidents occur on our roads is very alarming. It is a truism that one of the major challenges that this country is still battling with is motor accidents. Professor Agyeman Badu Akorsah rightly hammered home this fact when he stated that the most 'deadly disease' in Ghana at the moment is motor accidents.
EFFECTS OF THE MENACE
Indeed this conquerable foe is gluttonously devouring our human and economic resources. Precious lives are lost thereby dwindling down our scarce labour force in the country, causing a stir in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Continual media reports reveal that Ghana's road accident is oddly high among developing countries. In 2001, for example, Ghana was rated as the second highest road traffic accident-prone nation among 6 West African countries, with 73 deaths per 1000 accidents.
Road accident increased in 2001 to 11,291 with 1660 fatalities, while decreasing slightly in 2002 to 10, 718 but with 1665 fatalities. Though road accidents further declined to 10,644 in 2003, fatalities piercingly rose to 11,718. Accra alone recorded, from January to March 2003, 1,417 motor accidents involving 2,125 vehicles.
According to the officials of Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the police, during this period, there were 78 fatalities, 373 serious injury cases and 966 minor accidents among others. The figure of road accidents in the country sharply went up to 12, 164 in 2004 but decreased to 11, 305 in 2005. Ghana records about 10,000 fatal road traffic accidents, every year, out of which 1,600 people perished while 15,000, are seriously injured, robbing the nation of some precious lives. Such persons may die or become incapacitated, denying them the ability to contribute to the nation's development meaningfully. Besides, Ghana loses an amount of GH¢165, 000, representing 1.6% of our GDP, yearly in solving road accident situations such as medical expenses of victims, damage to vehicles and insurance cost among others. Our dear nation in all loses about 2% of her GDP annually due to road accidents.
EVERY LIFE IS IN DANGER
Although statistics available reveal that pedestrian (particularly men) and children between the ages of 4 to 10 years are most vulnerable to road accidents, every person stands the risk of this menace. The passing away of Bishop Kwadwo Owusu and Ferdinand Ayim are critical cases in point. Some honourable members of our august parliament house such as Alhaji Kwawdo Mahama, Osei Kwaku and John Achuliwor and others suddenly departed us due to motor accidents. Ghanaian celebrities such as Suzzy Williams, Terry Bonchaka and Kwame Owusu Ansah and the likes, who died in motor accidents, have indeed left a great vacuum in the Ghanaian Film and Music Industry. The death of the three medical practitioners and in fact countless similar reported cases are still fresh in our memory. Media reports reveal that President Kuffour's convoy had had at least 3 serious accidents since he assumed office in 2001. About 6 security officers died in these accidents. Ghanaians are yet to ascertain the actual cause of the recent deadly motor accident involving the president's fleet in Accra . The Vice President has also experienced a deadly motor accident somewhere in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana , which claimed the life of a teenager. Of course Ex-President Rawlings was not immune from motor accident. The infamous case in which a mini bus drove into his convoy, killing 4 body guards on the spot, has not been forgotten.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE MENACE The most common known causes of road traffic accidents in Ghana include gross indiscipline on our roads, over-loading, fatigue driving, drunk driving and over-speeding. Statistics show that 60% of road accidents are caused by drunk driving and over-speeding. The latter alone constitutes about 50% of road accidents in the country. The poor nature of some of our roads, poor maintenance of vehicles, disregard for traffic regulations by most drivers and indiscriminate use of the road by some pedestrian are some of the other causes of motor accidents in the country.
As much as the writer does not hold any qualm against any of the above factors, it is the humble view of the author that it is high time we took another look into the causes of road accidents in this country. There are, of course, other countless factors that we usually fail to address adequately to curtail the peril. Much talk and pragmatic measures are usually high jacked against the above factors, but we seem not to be getting anywhere. Is there not a cause? Indeed there is a root cause of most of the above factors which must be dealt with accordingly. Why the gross indiscipline on our roads while we have officials policing these same roads? Why the numerous unworthy and old aged cars, with the so-called authorized documents, on our highways while there is the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA)? What accounts for the questionable (poor) driving standards among some supposed drivers while we have numerous stakeholders in the road sector?
BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION There is no questioning the fact that the perception of corruption among some officials at the DVLA offices and some police officers with the MTTU is real, present and factual. Put more elegantly, the level of bribery and corruption within these departments are indeed the root cause of most of the above factors. Regrettably, some people procure their driving license and road worthy certificates through dubious means from some accredited driving schools and DVLA, a body which has been mandated to assess the conditions of vehicles. This undeniably has paved way for wrong people acquiring license, for which they are not qualified to hold. What can a police officer do in a situation where there is a clear evidence of unworthy vehicle plying the road, but the driver possesses the required papers? It must be indicated that not only do these officials extort money from the members of the public before they offer the needed service, but also certify some unwarranted documents. A driver may, for example, have the date of his document, which under normal circumstance must expire within three months for possible renewal, extended to about eight months or more. Contemptuously, these so-called authorized documents are usually having official endorsements. Besides, due to bribery and corruption, some drivers are not made to go through the legal and other necessary process to forestall some preventable future eventualities, such as some of the needless motor traffic accidents. There is therefore no wonder that majority of our supposed drivers are not able to interpret the meaning of even one road sign.
Of course some police officers with the MTTU are blameworthy of this unprofessional conduct. Ghanaians do not need any further proof to believe that there is high rate of bribery and corruption between some drivers, especially those using commercial vehicles, and some police officers. From the presidency to our individual homes remains the assertion that there is corruption within the police service. Recent local and international reports rank the service as the topmost corrupt institution in Ghana , with 78% score. The dishonourable conduct on the part of some police officers, policing our roads, has truly sky- rocketed the ugly perception among the public. The cumulative effect is that reckless and offending drivers, upon apprehension, are able to bribe their way through, thereby going scot free. The vulgar indiscipline on the part of some drivers on our roads greatly results from the high rate of impunity, which bribery and corruption has offered them. Therefore, drunk drivers and people involved in over-speeding and loading have no reason to fear. Some police barriers become a safe haven for recalcitrant drivers to perpetuate their misdeeds with the greatest impunity. Our road traffic Laws have therefore become toothless bulldogs.
SERVICE TO MANKIND
It is a sad commentary that some police officers and officials within the DVLA offices, throughout the country, have turned their official duty into private profit making ventures, through blatant corruption at the expense of human lives and our economic advancement. Meanwhile, these officials receive monthly salaries and allowances at the cost of the ordinary Ghanaian taxpayer, whose life has been sacrificed needlessly. It must not be forgotten that the human soul and for that matter life is the most valuable asset of Ghana , even to our Maker. We must therefore, with much extra, be careful not to indirectly cutoff the life of an individual. No amount of money can be used to exchange the life of a man (Matthew 16:26). We should by no means take pleasure in materialism over the lives of our people. It is widely known that people are more important than possessions, principles are important than power and service is more important than success. Do not let us stop thinking about the fact that service to humanity is service to God and that money is not everything. Besides, it must be borne in mind that we are where we are today because our predecessors sacrificed immensely for the development of our cherished nation. It goes without saying that we should serve our dear Ghana (humanity) with a genuine devotion and commitment, no matter how poor the condition of service at our work places may be.
THE WAY FORWARD The Ghana Road Safety Commission (GRSC) with its allies such as the MTTU, DVLA, the National Association of Driving Schools, National Insurance Commission and the media must be commended for their priceless efforts in curbing the menace on our roads. GRSC must be assisted by all and sundry to achieve its target of reducing road traffic accident fatalities systematically, on yearly basis, with the aim of achieving a single digit in accident fatality rate by the year 2015. The commission's determination to ensure that Ghana 's transportation system becomes the safest in Africa , with a single digit in road accidents needs the concerted effort of all Ghanaians. Paramount among the contributions we can make is a mega shift in our attitude. Commercial drivers, the culpable public officials within the police service and the road industry, especially some officials at the DVLA, should as a start reflect on their actions and inactions and realize how such deeds are hindering the development of our dear Ghana. The desired change will materialize if and only if we resolve, individually, to make the above target a dream come true.
The Ministry of Interior also needs to be commended for the swift, but necessary, measures it is taking to save the sinking image of the police service. The introduction of the tag system is a clear policy direction to beat down the trend of corruption in the service, especially police officers on our roads. The Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General's Department as well as the Ghanaian Parliament should be lauded for injecting the necessary sensible changes into the Road Traffic Act to pin down bribery and corruption, thereby reducing impunity among some offending drivers. It should however be noted that actions taken to minimize and discourage some commercial drivers from bribing some police officers is one side of the needed step. The other side is to cleanse the corrupt practices by some public officials in the road industry, including the police service. Workable schemes and measures, as a matter of urgency, should be put in place to limit, if not to uproot completely, the 'trade'. There are usually two sides of every coin; hence a coin without two faces is a mockery of what it represents.
Public education on road safety needs to be intensified by the GRSC and the media to heighten awareness creation. Our religious leaders and politicians should sensitize their cliques or supporters as well as members of the public on the menace of road accidents in the country. It goes without saying that the Ministry of Road and Transport and the National Road Coordinating Council should pragmatically sustain the regular workshop, seminars, symposium and the ilk for the stakeholders in transport industry. Moreover, the transport ministry should not relent on its effort of giving our roads the needed facelift, while avoiding shoddy works by some corrupt contractors and public officials in the sector. There is also the need for the commission to adhere to the call from some members of the public that it should procure more, if any, speed cameras, which could be mounted at some sensitive road spots to monitor, and upon apprehension, deal with offending drivers in a lawful manner.
In addition, there is urgent need to procure significant towing vehicles to patrol our highways with the view of taking away, at the cost of their owners, all faulty vehicles from our roads. Furthermore, police officers at any police barrier which is proximate to any accident scene should be made to face the needed disciplinary action for derision of duty. This is particularly very necessary where there is enough evidence to prove that the offending driver (s) was/were for example guilty of over-loading, drunk driving, over-speeding and so forth, yet was/were allowed to pass through that police barrier.
CONCLUSION The quest to achieve total development in the Ghanaian economy may become a daydream, if pointless road traffic accidents continue to consume the illustrious. sons and daughters of mother Ghana Our promising nation needs the contribution of every individual within her territory to make her colourful dreams a reality. The aim of attaining a single digit of road accidents by the year 2015 is not an easy task. We should therefore mount all the necessary arsenals, in our armory, against all the causes of the menace on our roads. The root causes (especially corruption) must be our target, since it is a major way that we can practically curb the scourge. Attitudinal change is the most desired answer that is knocking at our door, to confront and paralyze the nerve-racking road traffic accidents in Ghana.
Richard Obeng Mensah; [email protected] He is with the Faculty of Law, KNUST and Centre for Human Rights and Advanced Legal Research (CHRALER), Kumasi