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28.05.2006 General News

Uncommon Sense: The Carnage on Our Roads

By Agencies
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Every Ghanaian is outraged by the rate of vehicular accidents and resulting fatalities on our roads. The recent loss of 35 humans in a single accident should be viewed by all, including our President, as the straw that broke our collective camel's back. We should not sit back and take it any more.

Traveling on the roads in Ghana should not be a highly risky, life-threatening undertaking. The Ministry of Health should consider vehicular accidents and the resulting mortality, injury, and subsequent disability as a public health threat, similar to HIV-AIDS and malaria. The Ministry of Social Welfare should consider the social disruption, loss of income earners in the family, and the creation of orphans caused by vehicular accidents as a threat to social stability. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development should determine the economic impact of these accidents and analyze their findings for government and the people of Ghana to study.

But, above all, some drastic changes must be made in the Ministries of Roads and Transportation, and Interior in response to these deaths. It is obvious that government has been unable or unwilling to take real action to get unfit drivers and unworthy vehicles off our roads. Daily, Ghanaians march to their deaths simply by climbing into vehicles that are either nothing better than death traps, or face the vehicles of drivers who believe they are immune to injury and death, on roads that have become mine fields. And when our people die on these roads, we conduct what has become the biggest social event in the lives of Ghanaians; we swing into the Big Funeral enterprise, ostentatiously waste money, and move on to the next funeral the following weekend.

In typical Ghanaian “enye whee” fatalistic attitude, we react to these traffic deaths as if they not avoidable. “As for accident, if it is your time, you will go”; the usual saying of a red-eyed driver, hurtling a busload of singing, wailing funeral goers to their doom.

My fellow Ghanaians, we can be more than just mere victims of our circumstances. Accidents do not just happen to people; most accidents are caused by people. We should simply say to government: “We will not take it anymore”. Government must bear the prime responsibility for the carnage on our roads. No individual can purchase a vehicle, fill it with his homemade petrol or gas-oil, carve out his own road, and drive any way he wants to wherever he wants. Government controls every step of the use of the motor vehicle. That is why government can and must stop this epidemic on our roads.

President Kufuor must act and act decisively. Ghanaians are under vehicular attack, Mr. President!

Here are my concrete suggestions:

1. Fire the Minister of Roads, Highways, and Transport At some point in time, the top man must bear responsibility. Dr. Richard Anane, the embattled medical doctor, has failed to demonstrate any leadership in dealing with these road accidents. After such a disaster as occurred on the Kumasi-Sunyani road, the distracted doctor must finally go. His firing will be a sign that the President wants a fresh bold start. We need a strong engineer or law enforcement professional to bring order to our roads.

2. Slow the vehicles down. Speed kills. The worst aspect of Ghanaian driving is excessive speeding. There must be a reduction in the speed limits on all our intercity single-carriage roads. Vehicles, originally designed to be driven on German autobahns and Japanese motorways, are imported used and unfit any longer for the autobahn or motorway, then they are driven on our curvy, bumpy, potholed, poorly signed roads at autobahn speeds. We are caught in a technological time warp. We have few major roads that can safely withstand high speed driving but all other smaller roads and vehicles have easy access to those major roads so that as a Toyota Land Cruiser travels at 120 km/h on the Kumasi–Accra road, a rickety vehicle limps from a feeder road on to the same traffic at 40 km/h, while an overloaded, unbalanced cargo truck leaning at 15-degrees from the vertical rumbles along, bad brakes and all, on the same road. This mix of dilapidated and new, slow and fast, large and small, is a fatal brew. Access to these roads must be controlled. Perhaps the large trucks must travel only from 6 PM to 6 am on the inter-city major roads.

If the speed limit on most dual-carriage super highways in the United States of America is 55-65 mph (88-104 km/h), what are we doing driving at 120 km/h on our single carriage rough roads in Ghana?

Most drivers are not aware of the simple physics of speed and road type. On a dual-carriage highway such as the Tema motorway, if two vehicles are traveling from Accra to Tema, the lead vehicle moving at 80 km/h and the trailing vehicle at 100 km/h, and the trailing vehicle hits the rear of the lead vehicle, the damage sustained is the same as each vehicle driving into a fixed wall at 20 km/h (the difference between the two speeds). The damage will be minor and not likely to result in fatality or serious injury. On the Tema motorway, vehicles moving in opposite directions typically do not collide head-on. Now, place the same vehicles on the single carriage Kumasi-Accra road and traveling in OPPOSITE directions. When the two vehicles collide head-on, now the damage is the same as each vehicle driving into the fixed wall at 180 km/h (the sum of the two speeds). This time, the damage is severe and may include fatalities and serious injury. That is why vehicles on single carriage roads (almost all inter-city roads in Ghana) must slow way down.

As an emergency measure, the speed limits on the major single-carriage inter-city roads should be reduced to 40 km/hour in the inhabited areas and 70 km in the uninhabited areas. Smaller roads should have even slower speed limits. These limits should be sustained on a trial basis throughout 2007, our 50th Independence Anniversary, while we study their impact on road fatalities.

Ghanaian drivers should not complain. Simply because our imported vehicles can do 180km/h does not mean we should push them to go that fast in Ghana. It is not just a matter of how fast you are driving but how fast, how well maintained, and how carefully driven the vehicle facing you is. You cannot entrust the lives of your passengers and yours to the driver and condition of the other vehicle.

3. Enforce the speed limits. The IGP and his team of police officers have proven to be ineffective in enforcing traffic rules. It is an accepted Ghanaian joke that policemen use their road assignment to supplement their low pay. We should not accept this any more. If the police will not or cannot enforce traffic rules, call in the soldiers. For a period of 12 months, the President should deploy soldiers to supplement traffic police in the cities and on the roads and hopefully bring some discipline into traffic enforcement. Ghanaians are being killed on the roads; we need all our Defence forces to help defend us.

4. Legislate tougher penalties for traffic violations. We need laws that will do the following: a. Establish a rapid traffic court system. In traffic violations, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. A traffic violator should not have the chance to return to cause havoc on the roads while his case is wading through the courts.

b. Mandate a jail sentence for any police or traffic officer soliciting or accepting a bribe from a traffic violator or motor vehicle owner, operator or assistant.

c. Instantly suspend the driver's license of any driver of a vehicle caught speeding, with a minimum suspension period of 6 months. Reinstate the driving license only following the taking and passing of a driver training course, paid for by the offender.

d. Require ALL drivers of commercial vehicles (passenger and cargo) to undergo and pass a commercial driver training course, paid for by the driver. Commercial driving should not be the default profession for illiterates and others who are unfit for other jobs that require ability to read and interpret signs. Commercial vehicles should display openly to the passenger, a photo imprinted Identification Card, certifying the driver for commercial driving.

e. Mandate a minimum 6-month jail sentence plus a hefty fine for any driver of a commercial vehicle who drives without the possession of a valid commercial driving license. Give a stiff fine for any driver of a private vehicle driving without a valid driver's license.

f. Mandate a minimum 6-month jail sentence plus a hefty fine for any officer of the motor vehicle licensing or law enforcement agency caught for assisting any person in acquiring a driver's license illegally.

g. Empower passengers of commercial vehicles to check driver qualification for commercial driving, challenge, report, and refuse to pay drivers who break traffic rules.

h. Empower citizens to report to traffic authorities any vehicle seen on the roads that appears to be unfit for the road. Local numbers to call should be displayed prominently on the roads throughout the country.

5. Establishment of a National Motorists Association The non-commercial users of vehicles need to organize to represent and protect their rights and interests. This must be a non-governmental organization that will serve as the prime advocate for the non-commercial user of motor vehicles on our roads and highways.

6. Establishment of a National Vehicular Accident Task Force. The President should establish a National Vehicular Accidents Task Force to be headed by an officer at the same level of authority as the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission. The Task Force should include officials from the Ministries of Roads, Highways, and Transport, Interior, Health, Finance and Economic Development, and Defence, and the National Motorists Association.

The Task Force should be charged with reducing vehicular casualties by 50% for 2007. In order to keep the public engaged on this disaster, the Task Force should develop a database for collection of national data on vehicular accidents and to report these data to the President and to the Ghanaian public every month from January to December 2007. There needs to be a national focus on this disaster somewhere other than the funeral services.

I am calling for strong leadership to avert this dangerous course that passengers, drivers, and motor vehicles have been on for decades in Ghana. We cannot simply mourn our dead, return from the funerals, go back to work, and get ready for the funerals of the following weekend. Enough is enough. President Kufuor, the ball is in your court.