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Feature Article of Friday, 16 March 2012

Columnist: GNA

“Safety on the N1 alias George Bush Highway: The Abeka Lapaz Factor”

More than a dozen lives have been lost already since the commissioning of the N1 Highway (also called the George Walker Bush Motorway) in the national capital, Accra, about three weeks ago. Now, if you multiply this by the number of weeks in a year, you can imagine what would happen by the end of 2012, if appropriate measures are not taken to curb the carnage on the Highway.

As these unfortunate events keep happening on the road, many are those who have begun to wonder whether the Highway is a blessing or a curse to road users in the capital city. In the opinion of this writer, it is definitely a blessing but would take the exercise of a great sense of responsibility, continuous public education and discipline on the part of individual road users in the city to realise its benefits.

This is because most of the crashes that have occurred could have been avoided if everybody, including those in authority, had identified their duties and performed them accordingly. So until we all wake up to our responsibilities and put in place the necessary mechanism to guarantee safety, we as a nation would continue to miss the positive sides of the Highway.

As a regular user of the newly constructed road, specifically on the Abeka-Lapaz stretch of the road, I have observed with much concern the level of indiscipline being exhibited daily by most of the users of this motorway, who comprise pedestrians, motorists, drivers (commercial and private), passengers, preachers, petty-traders and shoppers.

The pedestrians are the most amazing. They seem to care less about their precious lives as they take delight in jumping freely over the rail barriers along the road even when they are very much aware of the risk involved.

On one instance, it was so sad seeing an elderly woman who had difficulty in walking, crossing over the barrier instead of simply asking someone to help her cross over. Just come to Lapaz, especially during rush hours and you will be surprised at how people, both young and old, ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ enjoy themselves jumping over the barriers like frogs. Then you ask yourself why the foot bridges were constructed, and why we cannot spend a few minutes using the footbridges to save our precious lives. In as much as there are issues regarding the positions of the footbridges, it is necessary to note that they remain the safest way of crossing over to the opposite sides of the road.

Obviously, drivers are the most undisciplined in Abeka-Lapaz, and one would wonder if there is any police post in that part of the city. Drivers, especially the commercial ones, defy all traffic laws; they park their vehicles at unauthorized places, stop to off-load and pick up passengers at any vacant space available on the road with careless abandon.

On this part of the highway, excessive speed is a daily routine for drivers of heavy duty trucks, commercial and private vehicles compete to display their driving skills at the expense of passengers’ lives. A typical example was the recent accident involving the container truck loaded with fish, a commercial car and a taxi. The driver of the truck was reported to have been over-speeding, otherwise that particular accident could have been avoided.

Another category of road users in lapaz are passengers, their behaviour is simply unimaginable. Just like the pedestrians, their attitude clearly shows that they do not value their lives. A passenger in Lapaz would not mind boarding a vehicle that is already in motion; he or she does not care where the car is parked let alone get worried when the driver is driving over the speed limit. To some extent one cannot blame them, considering the current transportation difficulties in Accra. It has driven every commuter into desperation such that passengers don’t seem to care whether the vehicle is over-loaded or not as long as it would take them to their destination. Concerns about safety don’t seem to matter.

Peti-traders are the most annoying. They station their items along the pavements meant for pedestrians. In fact, the N1 area has become more congested and noisier than the Central Business District or Kwame Nkrumah Circle, as goods like refrigerators, second hand clothes, shoes among others are displayed freely along the sides of the highway.

If there were no buyers, there will not be sellers; consumers around Abeka-lapaz have now made Lapaz their last stop for shopping, be it for food items, clothing and cosmetics, causing abnormal congestion, especially in the evenings.

Motorcyclists are not left out from the high risk game on the N1, as their speed rate seems to surpass that of the drivers. Some of these motor bike riders, are so reckless they zoom with speed even though they do not wear crash helmets. Most of them do not regard the red light and end up knocking down innocent pedestrians.

Although we want the gospel of God to be propagated to people everywhere, it should be done with caution. Lapaz is now choked with scores of Evangelists who have also taken over the rest of the space left by traders on the pavements.

Given the chaotic situation on the highway, therefore, the city authorities should act fast and institute some mechanisms to help curb the menace in Lapaz before things get out of hand. This, perhaps, is where we ought to see more of the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police Service in action, deploying its officers 24/7 to instill discipline in motorists and pedestrians; some people know the right thing to do but have become used to being pressurised before they do it.

The MTTU should see it as a duty to always post their officers on the highway especially when there are power outages. The Abeka-Lapaz accident could have been avoided if there was police presence on the road that evening when the lights were off.

As was being suggested sometime ago, recalcitrant drivers and motorists should be arrested, punished severely and their licenses seized until they undergo re-training. Also, measures should be put in place to regulate the movement of heavy trucks on the road, with a specific time allotted for these trucks to ply the road.

Government through the Ministry of Roads and Highways should support the police with more equipment such as tow trucks for rescue purposes, mobile phones and other protective devices for officers on duty.

Stakeholders such as the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC), Ghana National Fire Service, National Ambulance Service (NAS), and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) should collaborate with the MTTU and other partners to educate the public on road traffic laws, how to use the highway, and speedily provide answers to concerns raised by individuals regarding the motorway.

There should be no excuse as to why the traffic lights on the N1 and other major highways should go off whenever there is ECG power failure in certain parts of the city. Solar energy would be the best antidote to the Constant Street and traffic light blackouts on the motorway and other parts of the capital.

Most importantly, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) should find more effective ways of driving the notorious traders and hawkers away from the highway and, if possible, demolish the shops that have been constructed along the road.

Pedestrians, consumers and passengers should not wait to be told before they do the right thing. The prompt use of the footbridges, refraining from buying and selling along the highway and avoiding other unlawful activities on the road should become a matter of course because a highway is a highway, and not a market; the least mistake could cause precious human lives.

(A GNA feature by Priscilla Enami Agbozo)**

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