The crisis of discipline which Sir William Ofori Atta spoke about some 34 years back and which yours truly reminded ourselves of last week made its master piece last week when over 60 precious lives were cut short in just one fell swoop at Kintampo. As if that was not enough, some 30 lives were also taken elsewhere in the Central Region of our dear country Ghana. The saddest part of this unfortunate incident is that 35 of our compatriots were buried in mass graves, and their relations neither saw their faces nor any part of their bodies again.
It was not a natural disaster even though it was a national disaster inflicted upon us by some drivers who have very serious and irreparable relations with discipline. Over the last decade and half, such mass murders have become frequent occurrences on our roads and other places, but we seem to have accepted them as normal. In almost every first quarter of the year, mass murders are committed on our roads. Besides, gas explosions kill, maim and deform scores of innocent people whose only crimes were that they happened to be in the vicinity of lawless and undisciplined people, whose actions and inaction seem to have been sanctioned by the state.
Industrial fire outbreaks as well as those that occur at market places and commercial outlets have taken away property as well as lives because of the recklessness and absolute disregard for simple dos and don'ts in our society. Let anybody go back and check the periods when these gruesome murders are unleashed unto a section of the populace and the trauma and horrifying experience their families and friends go through.
The economic loss to the state has never been estimated because we hardly look at the backgrounds of those we lose under such painful and gruesome experiences and the roles and contributions they individually or collectively make to the state. Those of us afar, moan and mourn and make noises we can make on the airwaves in anger, while the politicians and other people in authority move quickly to the scenes of carnage to ostensibly show their sympathies with the dead who cannot appreciate those sympathies, let alone observe the crocodile tears being shed and shared by those whose earlier actions could have prevented the mass deaths.
Strangely, it is only when such ghastly and suffocating lives have been lost that our policymakers and implementers come to realize that there are existing laws that need to be enforced. That is when those whose actions and inaction receive the vociferous cautions and admonishing, going forward. Yes, when the battle is lost and lives are mixed with the earth.
We are told that between 1991 and 2018, a period of 27 years, over 46,000 lives have been lost to road accidents. Thousands yet have suffered one form of deformity or the other through road accidents in this country. The figure of murders on our roads, within the stated time frame, I believe, must be higher than deaths caused by HIV/AIDS within the same period. While we shout our voices hoarse and go back to sleep after each mass murders on the roads, we go international to seek financial support to educate our populace about the deadly effects of HIV/AIDS.
Invariably, we get the funds to engage in HIV/AIDS education in the country. Jingles are made and aired on our electronic media. All manner of sensitization to classes of and groups of people on the dreaded disease takes place. Nobody or no conscious efforts are made, targeting road users particularly drivers in this country on the need for them to be very careful, law abiding as far as driving rules and traffic regulations are concerned on a consistent basis.
While it is true that there is a huge infrastructure deficit of our road network, the mass murder on our roads is not primarily due to the bad nature of our roads. In my view, very bad roads impede the movements of vehicles and hardly cause such carnage. It is the very bad drivers behind the steering wheels who massacre travellers with glee and in many instances get away with murder.
Now, let us look at how drivers are trained in this country. In many instances, if one sees a would-be driver being trained by the few driving schools privately operated, many of the students happen to be young women and young men from middle class homes. These trainee drivers graduate and drive private vehicles. This country has a little over 2 million vehicles that translate to 2 million drivers, as it were. How many of these drivers had formal driving training and lessons?
Today, we have thousands of drivers in this country who stay at home and still acquire driver's license because of the porous nature of the acquisition of the driver's license. There are so many drivers who trained at the car washing bays. Many of us get to the bays and hand over our vehicles to the boys who drive them to the bays and back after washing the vehicles. Once they are able to change gears and control the steering wheel, they think they are drivers. And when the corrupt machinery of acquiring driver's license is oiled, that person becomes a driver by law. The question is: does he or she know the simple rules and regulations of driving?
Can the DVLA regularly subject drivers to test in terms of their knowledge and understanding of the road signs – the dos and don'ts – on our roads? How many reckless drivers have been banned from driving for life in this country in the face of the recklessness and carnage on our roads? Over the past 30 years or more, we have produced so many drivers because it has become the cheapest trade for people to get into in the face of massive unemployment among the youth.
With so many vehicles on our roads and road transport being the largest means of commuting in the country, can't we make conditions of acquiring a driver's license so stringent to even include medical reports from a medical doctor as regards the mental state of the prospective driver before a driver's license is issued to the applicant?
A critical observation of some drivers on our roads will create no doubt in the mind of any serious person that the mindset of some drivers should disqualify them from driving. This is important because the state of the health of a driver can contribute to an accident.
Commercial drivers for example must be regularly subjected to drug test in this era when tramadol and other such drugs have contributed to the mental health situation in our country. Long distance drivers should be compelled to have regular stops along their routes depending on the distance. They must have logbooks that record the stops on the way which must be inspected by police personnel on the roads. Many are those who do not have confidence in the police to do this for us. But do we have an alternative?
The police should also not just report the number of accidents that occur in this country to us. They should tell us how many deviant drivers they arrest and get the law to deal with them.
The municipalities must also rise up to their responsibilities. It is common to see that our roads have become the permanent parking places for broken down vehicles, thus reducing the driving space for drivers in motion. Let us stop this carnage on our roads. My condolences go to the bereaved families.
From Kwesi Biney
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