Feature Article of Thursday, 1 October 2009
Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen
The grave issue regarding the incessant road accidents which have broke into full view recently has dominated not only headlines but also government deliberations. The profound darkness and horror which has clouded road transport in Ghana claiming sizeable numbers of innocent souls still remains a mystery. Obviously, all forces operating on our roads now seem completely uncontrollable. The spate at which people are being annihilated on our roads has simply attached the state of normalcy to these deaths. It is not normal. This, in no doubt, has presented the ordinary Ghanaian with bleak uncertainties in the future. By virtue of the fact that the viruses on our roads are massacring lives even more than HIV/AIDS, it is imperative upon the country to do something urgently to curtail the upsurge of this dilemma. An aspect that even makes it more critical is that road accident is no respecter of persons. From the President, Ministers of State, Directors of National Road Safety Commission, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and public/private offices to the ordinary people at the grass-root level, all are largely susceptible to the doom present on the roads. These deadly viruses need to be scanned and treated to avert further disasters.
Road accidents in perspective
As stated by Dr. Arthur Kennedy, the road accidents 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 sacrifices.
The National Road Safety Commission has said that road accidents, apart from claiming human lives and leaving others injured, cost the nation US$165 million, representing 1.6% of the Gross Domestic Product, every year. If these are the issues the country is grappling with, why is there not the need to formulate a multi-pronged approach to curtailing the alarming rate of this canker. The country cannot suffer needlessly to lose this great amount which otherwise should have been channeled to investments in other productive sectors of the economy to soothe the enormous threat of poverty on the people. It is worthwhile of note that apart from this huge sums wasted, the already limited skilled labour force are always threatened to a state of scarcity. No wonder Ghana continues to beg for loans and other forms of assistance and yet no significant development has been realised.
If the country should sit unconcerned, then President Atta Mills’ call and wish for the influx of foreign investors to invest in Ghana would definitely be a voice sadly crying in the wilderness. Incessant road accidents serve to deter potential investors from entering the borders of an economy let alone investing. But the fact is that this ailing economy needs responsive investments to keep up pace with contemporary development which has fast outrun us.
Finding Lasting Solutions
Unfortunately, diverse strategies devised to calm down the turbulence of this unfortunate situation seems to have failed. What then is the right antivirus to neutralise the effects of the deadly virus on the roads? The director of Planning and Programme of NRSC Mrs. May Obiri Yeboah has said that drivers contributes to 93% of road accidents and attributed majority of those accidents to drivers who had not attended any driving school. Again, the Minister of Transport, Hon. Mike Hammer has disclosed that the ministry in collaboration with the National Road Safety Commission as part of plans to curtail the road accidents in the country will focus on the implementation of the “National Road Safety (2006-2009) and Action Plan”, a blue print for road safety management in the country (ISD, Ghana.gov.gh).
It is striking to know that these strategies from the NRSC and the Ministry of Road Transport are a great leap forward towards clamping down on road accidents in the country. However, the right hidden issue is not yet unraveled and has long been neglected. The pertinent issue remains that the economy is filled with vehicles that have long past their time and as such possesses defective brakes, axles and other such parts. Though human errors, road defects, non-enforcement of regulations and possibly public disregard for the ‘rules of the road’ forms significant proportion of the causes of road accident, purging the economy of old, dilapidated and road unworthy vehicles is providing as much as 50% strategic effort to redress the horrific scenes on the roads. In September 2009, the bizarre road accident that occurred at Eduagyei in the Central Region claiming nineteen (19) lives is enough to justify this purposeful case. It was reported that one Robert Jackson, said something broke under the car resulting in the loss of control, the car veered of its lane and finally crashed into an articulated truck. So, in this case is it the driver that is incompetent? It is about time we set the record straight, this instance has been the major cause of road accidents and accounts for high number of deaths among the various causes of accidents in Ghana. Vehicles which are in the state of disrepair are technologically fixed by our local mechanics. This applies not only vehicles that go long distances but commercial (tro-tro) vehicles in our big cities especially Accra where the state of most commercial vehicles is an eye-sore. Death is immediately sensed in vehicles with exposed sharp metals always ready to wreak havoc and anxiety to lives of people. Most vehicles on our roads are so decrepit to safely move passengers from one place to another; we are as calling for death as the gong-gong beater calls the village for special announcement. We cannot afford for our people to die “nyafu-nyafu” like that.
It should be known that directing all long distance commercial drivers to carry a vehicle log book to help them adhere to the Road Traffic Regulations 1974 (L.I 953) which requires drivers to rest between long distance is never the pragmatic solution to curtail the increase in road accidents. The driver can have the best of sleeps but serves no practical usefulness when one drives in road unworthy, old vehicles. As a matter of urgency, the Ministry of Transport should collaborate with the NRSC, DVLA and the security agencies to start decongesting old, human threatening vehicles that are in the state of disrepair in whole country. The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority by controlling the influx of old and dangerous vehicles into the local economy would help in this regard. If there is any decongestion Ghana needs, then surely it is decongesting our towns and cities from dangerous operations of some vehicles that put human life at risk.
Ghana needs to be circumspect and proactive in its dealings with this delicate issue where the tragedy can even befall the head of state and high state/government officials. Do not wait for the accident to happen before forming boards and committees or having Regional Ministers and other leaders donating to victims possibly to show their financial prowess or sympathy to mean they care. The absolute care would be nipping this unfortunate situation in the bud. It is also imperative that DVLA expedite prudent actions now in its registration of the type of vehicles that enter their domain. The licenses provided to drivers should not be based on the ‘money’ paid under the pretext of gift but that the actual skills and knowledge are acquired in driving. A major boost in road transport where fears are allayed would serve to provide the nexus to the various sectors of the economy for a holistic realisation of accelerated growth. This strategy should feature prominently in the implementation of the “National Road Safety (2006-2009) and Action Plan” and certainly the horrors on our roads would be curtailed.
The issues regarding curtailing the menace of road accidents should as a matter of urgency be our utmost priority as a country before we lose large proportion of our human resource base. Something needs to be done before people start walking on foot to their destinations regardless of the distance. Vehicle log book which requires drivers to rest between long distance journeys can in no wise help when a vehicle develops axle faults or brake failure and other major breakdown of such parts. Good condition of vehicles that ply our road would serve to destroy the seemingly invincible viruses that have been fomenting the crisis of underdevelopment and poverty. Let us chart the best way forward to salvage the 1.6% of GDP that is needlessly expended on road accidents in the country.
The author Stephen Yeboah (email@example.com) is at the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi-Ghana.