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Columnist: Etse Ladzekpo

Setting standards for driver acompetence

Opinion Opinion

Driving, as a critical safety skill, depends on the integration between the road and traffic environment, the vehicle being driven and most importantly, the driver’s knowledge and competence. Research over the last couple of decades consistently shows that many road traffic incidents are caused by human error: driver attitude and behaviour are cited in 80 per cent to 90 per cent of such traffic incidents.

No matter how good a driver you are, there is always something new one can learn from the driving environment and the vehicle. And indeed there is still a lot more to learn about driver attitude and behaviour which are the key factors in road traffic crashes.

Effects of road accidents
Too many lives are lost on the world’s roads because many drivers have not developed the right attitude and approach to safety; many others are unable to combine sound knowledge of co-operative and collaborative driving techniques with courtesy and consideration towards other road users.

Increased motorisation, particularly in developing countries has not equated with increased knowledge and competences for driving these vehicles.
This situation is compounded by inconsistent and porous enforcement regimes. Consequently, vulnerable road users, pedestrians, young and old, are always at risk of vehicular deaths and injuries, with little or no compensation.

Thus, mobility, which is an important factor in the life of working people, and an essential ingredient in the economic and social development of our country, Ghana, comes at a high cost which continues to be paid via traffic-related fatalities and life-altering injuries and economic costs.

The United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety identified ineffectual driver training, lax licensing systems, sub-standard vehicles, porous law enforcement and the lack of political will to effect change, as the factors that perpetuate carnage on the roads.

Ghana’s Road Safety Problems
Ghana’s road safety problems are compounded, according to road safety research reports, by driver incompetence and lack of effective training, non-existent road markings, poor road signage, porous enforcement and increased vehicular population. Driver incompetence stems from the mode of training novice drivers undertake.

Compulsory driving lessons for first time licence applicants were only recently promulgated in the Road Traffic Regulations of 2012, Legislative Instrument (LI) 2180, Regulation 26. There is, however, no clear indication that the licensing authority is insisting on the production of a certificate of completion of the 48-hour mandatory training prior to issuance of the first licence.

Regulations 31 and 33 also require attendance and production of legally mandatory training certificates from registered driver training institutions, before licences are renewed and/or upgraded. And, Regulation 125 requires commercial vehicle operators to organise regular retraining and refresher courses for their members and the drivers to show proof of having attended a course of training before permits are issued, renewed or upgraded. Indeed, these legal requirements should be seen as laudable efforts to institutionalise standards and modalities for acquiring licences at all levels of the driving experience.

Setting driving standards
Setting standards for driver competence and adhering to them should have been the first priority for ensuring that the privilege to drive is not granted on a silver platter. Any group of people who drive will experience a road traffic incident sooner or later. By agreeing to license them, society accepts that risk.

Driving standards and their implementation and enforcement imply a socially acceptable goal.

Hitherto, all classes of licences are granted to persons who lack well-cultivated and effective skills and thorough knowledge to drive motor vehicles in accordance with the rules and regulations of the road environment.

Commercial vehicle drivers in Ghana, for instance, may be described as ‘occupational’ rather than ‘professional’ drivers, as driving was not the first and foremost career choice: most got into driving vehicles as a last resort – a consequence of dropping out of school, loss of guardian or some life exigency.

Road safety statistics are mute on the number of illiterate or unschooled drivers who are involved in road crashes; there is equally no data detailing the level of educational qualification among the driver population in the road traffic crash statistics.

In fact, the seemingly haphazard nature of driver training, principally for higher class of licence, makes assessments of driver competence and quality of delivery and testing unmeasurable. It should be noted that in a low and middle income country such as Ghana, the national driving test and licence acquisition procedures may not guarantee that the licence holder is suitable, safe and competent to drive for any corporate institution whether local or international. These are critical road safety problems.

Implication of setting standards
Driving standards should incorporate requirements for all drivers to be both physically and mentally fit to perform driving tasks. A minimum ‘fitness to drive’ standard should be set and procedures put in place to enable this to happen. Driving is a complex task which requires a good sense of perception, responsiveness, clear memory and judgement. This task can be impaired by poor health conditions such as epilepsy, psychiatric tendencies, fainting, diabetes, and sleep disorders.

It should be standard legal requirement for all drivers, but principally, commercial passenger and large goods vehicle drivers should undertake regular health checks. In fact, organisations should insist on this requirement as a minimum to avert road safety-related incidents.

It is important that drivers are competent to carry out their tasks and responsibilities. Driver training and development should therefore, be a regular feature on the staff induction menu at the start of initial employment and throughout their engagement in the organisation.

Standards must be set and adhered to so as to enable effective appraisal, assessment of performance and measurement of deviation from stated goals and objectives. Standards should determine excellence, quality and the correctness of procedures. Driving standards should include a solid application of skills, knowledge and understanding: the basis for safe and responsible driving.

There are indeed clear road safety implications for setting driving and riding standards. Standards will enable good practice in the field of driving, establish a benchmark for performance that underpins lifelong driver development and professionalism and be the platform for conformity, uniformity and basis for international acceptance.

Ultimately, standards will contribute to the overall objective of reducing the number of people who are killed or seriously injured on our roads.

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