Accidents: Which Way for Africa?
"Germs don’t kill Africans; only cars do"-Anonymous.
|An accident in Ethiopia P.Courtesy|
Accidents in Africa are attributed to all manner of causes. Passengers often blame the drivers for over speeding and doing wrong overtaking. Drivers often cite the poor road networks. Government officials blame pedestrians for not being careful on the streets. On several occasions, the blame is shifted to some evil spirits. People always look for a scapegoat at the end of the day.
Technically speaking, human errors, vehicle breakdowns, non-road worthy vehicles, poor road conditions and environmental factors like poor weather can be said to be the major causes of accidents everywhere in the world. All these errors can be prevented if authorities in charge are serious on the need to combat road accidents. Resorting to blame games will not help us in any way.
In Ghana, the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) announced that there were 19 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles in 2010. The statistics showed that 43% of the fatalities involved pedestrians and 53% involved occupants of vehicles. Shockingly, 23% of all pedestrian fatalities involved children below the age of 16 years. In 2011, there were 2,330 road accidents bringing it to an average of 7 accidents per day across the country. By November 2012, 13,535 crashes had been recorded resulting to over 2,069 deaths in Ghana. In December 2012 alone, 246 people died and 1,260 were injured in car accidents. According to the Commission, the major cause of road accidents in Ghana is overspeeding. This accounts for 60% of car crashes in the country. When road users take indiscipline to the roads, what do we expect in return? An average of 1.7% of Ghana’s GDP (US$230 million) is lost every year to road accidents. But how many people have to die every year before the road authority addresses this problem once and for all? If road crashes kill more people in Ghana than communicable diseases, isn't that a serious problem?
In Zambia, the Road Transport and Safety Agency suggests that, in economic terms, the cost of road accidents to the Zambian economy is estimated at about 3% of the GDP (K2.4 trillion), an amount which translates into several hundred millions of dollars. In 2005, some 44 students were killed on a bus going on holiday from the northern Luapula province to Lusaka. According to official statistics, at least 1,200 people are killed in traffic accidents every year in Zambia with several tens of thousands wounded within the same period. In the last half of 2011 alone, some 968 people were killed in road traffic accidents in Zambia, with 2,826 people seriously injured while some 3,033 were slightly injured during the same period. More alarming figures can be recorded from Nigeria, Kenya, and many countries across the African continent.
What are the Road Safety Commissions actually doing here in Africa? Every year, our various authorities come up with more alarming figures, yet nothing is done about it. It is always business as usual. Oh Africa!
An old man struggles to cross the George Bush Highway
What causes these accidents?
Bad roads. Non visible road markings. No road safety signs. No speed limits. Motorists who are never fined for breaching road safety measures on regular basis. Of course this happens because they have the police in their pockets. On our highways, motorists park their cars anywhere and idle about, especially in the cities. Police officers are increasingly accepting bribes and deliberately allowing traffic offenders to have a field day. Many of the drivers drink and drive at the same time! Some drivers even say that they cannot drive without taking alcohol. What a society!
Recently, the world was shocked by a tragic accident in Zambia that saw 73 people die on the spot. According to Zindaba Soko, Executive Director of the Road Transport Safety Agency of Zambia (RTSA), it was “…very sad day to lose so many lives” and “…saddening that this was basically caused by human error of unnecessary speeding and overtaking.”
While some in government would want to blame the cause of accidents on drivers, I believe much of the problem has to do with the laxity of implementing road regulations and corruption.
Visiting the DVLA in Ghana and Nigeria for instance, there are too many “middlemen” you have to “see” before you can acquire a driver’s license. You can even buy a Ghanaian/Nigerian driving license without going to any driving school at all. Many drivers actually learn driving while serving as drivers’ mates, without taking a single lesson from government-approved driving schools.
The police on the other hand have been receiving bribes and perverting justice on our roads. Usually there is no prosecution on Ghanaian roads if particular drivers are at fault. This is because some of the drivers have got our police commanders in their pockets and will never be prosecuted. Are we not ashamed of publishing these road accident figures every year without a clear cut commitment to address the problem?
In Ghana there are many motorcyclists who ply the roads everyday without crack helmets. Yet, the road authority doesn't care. We have motorists who do not register their vehicles at all, yet they use these vehicles for commercial purposes. We have motorists who don’t have their cars regularly checked to ensure safety. About 70% of our commercial vehicles are in shambles, completely dilapidated and not road-worthy, yet they ply our roads 7 days a week and 15hrs a day. Many motorists don’t even have car insurance yet nobody cares. Our leaders are also very lazy. They refuse to put in place the necessary measures that will check the traffic offenders. This is why such accidents continue to occur on a daily basis and in such large numbers. In the night, many of our roads including the so-called motorways have no street lights. Some of the pot-holes on these ‘motorways’ are so big, they could pass for manholes.
I have never seen any speed limit on any of our highways in Accra, the capital of Ghana! In fact, the N1 in Ghana, a recently commissioned ultramodern highway also known as the George Walker Bush Motorway has no single speed limit! I am yet to see any road sign which reads: ‘slow down,’ ‘reduce speed now’ or warning message such as ‘temporal speed limit at 70km/hr’ on any of the dangerous bends all along the motorway. What does this tell us? Does it mean that traffic rules ought to be flouted?
A visit to any zebra crossing in Accra reveals the frustration of passengers struggling to cross the roads since drivers are always driving at top speed (usually over 180km per hour), making it completely impossible for pedestrians, most of them school children yearning to cross. This perhaps explains why 23% of all pedestrian fatalities in Ghana involved children below the age of 16 years.
Our drivers have grown with the perception that, where the road is good, they are at liberty to speed as dangerous as they deem necessary. Is it a wonder that over speeding is killing our people on the roads? Almost all the topspeed motorways have been laid through the residential areas where many school children have no choice but to walk across. Yet, there are not subways not footbridges.
Then the few foot bridges, the intervals between them are too long that pedestrians are not encouraged to patronize them. How many passengers would like to walk a distance of over 500m just to use an over-pass to cross the road and walk another 500m back at the other side of the road? Yet, this is how our motorways have been designed.
The way forward
Road accidents could be drastically reduced if effective awareness campaigns are mounted countrywide. This is where the media especially the TV stations could play a vital role. Some of other measures that could be taken included :
Adequate warning signs and speed limits must be provided on all roads to warn drivers. This will help prevent all accidents often caused by overspending.
The road authority must introduce a safety and maintenance manual which will require drivers to regularly check their vehicles. Such checks must require the drivers to produce the maintenance certificates issued by approved authority in charge of the inspection.
Highways must be properly designed to factor in the needs of all road users such as children, the elderly and people with disability. It is time to include safe passage such as subways, bicycle lanes and enough footbridges provided at reasonable intervals for pedestrian to safely cross the highways.
Drivers must be educated on the significance of the various zebra crossings such that they do not abuse the right of pedestrians to a safe passage.
The police must be adequately resourced and well-motivated to deal with traffic offenders. This will help bring the bribery and corruption cases which promote drivers’ indiscipline on the roads.
The road authority must randomly sample a couple of drivers plying the roads to find out their level of knowledge to the Highway Code and the road safety regulations. This can help determine whether such drivers truly acquired their license through the proper channels.
All motor cyclists spotted on the roads without the crack helmet must have their motorbikes impounded and be made to pay a heavy fines. Failure to do so must attract serious prison sentences. Cyclists must also be forced to wear high visibility jackets and helmets before riding on the roads.
The Road authority must institute a maintenance policy where all major roads will be checked weekly to ensure that all damages are quickly identified and repaired; all missing/obscured road signs must be replaced to ensure the safety of road users, especially the drivers. All vehicles that are not found to be road-worthy must not be allowed to ply the roads.
Discipline on the road must form a key aspect of driving lessons and tests. Drivers must adequately be taken through the rudiments of safe driving paying attention on the need to avoid accident irrespective of which user was at fault. Quite often, many of the drivers use the horn unnecessarily and this in a way scares off some road users such as cyclist, motor riders and even pedestrians. Some cyclist may lose concentration and feel intimidated resulting in unexpected crush.
All vehicles must have safety triangles, fire extinguisher and appropriate safety tools that could be used to warn other road users where a vehicle breaks down along the roads.
Government must find a way to deal with the level of corruption at the DVLA which often makes it possible for some people to acquire driver’s license even without going through the proper channel. This means, the act of selling driver’s license to merely those who can afford to pay must end at the various DVLA centers across the African continent.
Any driver found to be drunk-driving must be given severe prison sentence.
It is hoped that these and many other measures shall be taken in order to help bring the accidents on our roads to the barest minimum.
By Honourable Saka
The writer firstname.lastname@example.org is a Pan-African analyst and the founder of the Project Pan-Africa (PPA), an organization that was established to unlock the minds of the African youth to take Africa’s destiny into their hands. The PPA seeks to provide the biggest platform that will give international exposure to all hidden but exceptional talents in Africa.
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