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26.03.2009 Feature Article

Perishing on our roads

Perishing on our roads

It is scary!
We are dying on our roads like flies. It is as if some wicked gods have decided to exact retribution for some national sin we have committed and decided that our roads are the best place to exact the sacrifice.

If this was happening in the old days in a village with responsible leaders, they would go on “abusa” to find out what has upset the gods.

Last week, following the accidents and deaths at Winneba and Apedwa, the President summoned the usual suspects to the castle to discuss the causes of accidents and how to address them. As usual, the “big men” all sounded very knowledgeable. Some talked of irresponsible drivers. Others talked about lack of enforcement. Some discussed cars that are not road worthy. Blah, blah, blah.

In the end, the President said he was impressed by the depth of knowledge and the solutions advanced in the meeting. He stated that in his view, all what was required was implementation. He tasked the sector Minister to co-ordinate joint action by the group in addressing the issue.

Before discussing the details of the President's meeting, it seems we have been here before.

During President Kufuor's time, when three Urologists perished in an accident, we were all horrified. We buried them and swore that never again would we allow the human treasure of our nation to be squandered in such a fashion. Of course, after a decent interval, we all went back to our bad ways.

Even this year, after the Valentine's Day tragedies, there was talk of tackling accidents and yet, nothing was done.

Accidents should not struggle to get the attention of our leaders. It can happen to the weak and the powerful alike. It does not discriminate on grounds of ethnicity.

Many of our prominent politicians have been involved in accidents in our recent history. Former Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor have both been involved in accidents. So has Nana Akufo-Addo. It took the life of Hon. Achuliwor of blessed memory.

To return to the President's meeting, there was one question he should have asked the big men who were summoned to his office but did not. President Mills should have asked them why we still had so many accidents despite all their detailed knowledge about the causes of accidents.

If all along we have known the causes of accidents while they were going on, have some people been negligent?

I am not an expert but unless the opinions expressed at the President's meeting are grounded in solid research, we need scientific data.

Amongst the speculated causes of accidents are the following.

1: Human error
Basically, this refers to driver error. Some of this may be due to deficient skills, tiredness or the use of inebriating substances.

2: Vehicular Defects
These basically refer to vehicles that should not be on the roads.

There are vehicles long retired elsewhere which are resurrected and put on our roads. Also, there are defective tires, brakes and other such parts of vehicles that, long past their time, are left on our roads till they lead to accidents and death.

3: Road Defects
This group involves roads that simply put, may not be car-worthy. These are roads with big pot-holes whose avoidance lead drivers into the paths of on-coming vehicles and thus increase the chances of accidents.

Unfortunately, not all such roads are old roads. Sometimes, very new roads, designed without sufficient attention to the safety of road users are more deadly than old roads.

4: Enforcement of Regulations
This refers to a whole range of activities, by police, by licensing authorities and by stakeholders, like the GPRTU and PROTUA.

5: Public Disregard for the “Rules of the Road”
The collective disregard of our driving public for the rules of the road are so well-known and recognized that there needs to be little elaboration.

We cut in front of one another with impunity. We create dual roads where there should be one. We create roads where there should be none. Taxi and tro-tro drivers convert highways into stations with reckless disregard for the rights of other road users. We turn streets into markets overnight and refuse to leave.

How can we reduce accidents on our roads?
First, we should document scientifically the causes of our accidents.

For instance, if one takes the Accra-Winneba road, when and where do most accidents occur? Which vehicles are involved? Which drivers are involved?

Once we get such data, they should inform our actions.

Second, to the extent that human error contributes to accidents, we must enhance and enforce standards of licensing. We must ensure that those we permit to drive are not a danger to themselves or other users of the road.

Along the same lines, long distance drivers must keep logs of how many hours they drive and authorities must ensure that they do not drive while tired.

The Unions that organize our drivers have a particularly significant role to play in educating drivers about behaviours that will make them and other road users safe.

Third, those who are responsible for clearing our vehicles for our roads must really sit up. Day in, day out, we see vehicles on our roads that deserve to be in repair garages or on the scrap heap.

Even when these agencies have not done their work, law enforcement agencies can fill part of the gap. On their own, sometimes law enforcement agencies when they are corrupt can negate even the best efforts of those who certify standards.

Fourth, road defects must engage our attention. Aside from the problems of bad old roads, as we have learned painfully in the last few years, new roads too can be dangerous to vehicles and passengers. When the Konongo-Kumasi section of the Accra-Kumasi road was completed, the speed-ramps between Ejisu and Kumasi that were supposed to slow vehicles down and reduce accidents caused some accidents because drivers did not have sufficient warning of their presence.

While on road defects, there are two additions/modifications that experts believe will have a significant impact on accidents. These are the introduction of rest areas and the widespread introduction of towing services.

We must build, at regular intervals on our major roads, “rest areas” so that long distance drivers can have good places to eat, to have a shower and to sleep, so that they can resume their journey as fresher and safer drivers.

Many accidents are related to disabled vehicles left in the middle of or beside roads that are already too narrow. These vehicles are ran into by other unsuspecting drivers, most of the time with deadly consequences.

We should establish towing services that will tow off our major highways, disabled vehicles within a specified length of time after a vehicle is disabled. These towing services, to be licensed on the basis of “any willing and qualified provider” basis, will be financed from charges specified by government and paid to the towing providers.

Of course, none of these or any other measures will work without enforcement.

Unfortunately, there are too many of our law-enforcement officers who are more interested in private gain rather than public safety. They must know that every life that is lost due to their negligence is one they will account for to our maker. But beyond entreaties, they must be supervised. While our frontline police personnel positions are insufficient for the tasks ahead, our supervisory positions are fully filled. There are enough hands for supervision. We must hold them to account.

Since inevitably there will be some accidents, let us improve our emergency and trauma care systems, so that we can reduce both injuries and deaths following accidents on our roads.

To be fair, no matter what officials do, they need the support of the public to succeed. We must stop telling drivers they are weak, just because they are driving within the speed limits. We must not reflexively support our own driver even when we know he/she is disobeying the rules of the road.

To return to the President's meeting, while I hope and pray that it will be a turning point, I am afraid that nothing much will come of it.

First, his charge to the Minister of transport ignores the role of the Road Safety Commission which is the constitutional body that is primarily concerned with safety on our roads. While they are starved of the resources to do their job, others whose hands are already full will be trying to do their work.

Soon, the President will move on and the big men he summoned will go back to “chopping their posts” while we continue to die “nyafu-nyafu” on our roads.

Let the President stay focused on this issue consistently and if by next year, we are all alive and accidents have gone down by about ten percent, we shall all hail the President.

That, more than any talk, will show us who is the President.

Credit: Arthur Kobina Kennedy [Email: [email protected]

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr., © 2009

The author has 191 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: ArthurKobinaKennedy

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