Feature Article of Friday, 22 February 2013

Columnist: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny

Accra’s Roads: Indiscipline and Lawlessness Perfected?

A Need for Remedy.

There are serious issues of indiscipline and lawlessness plaguing our society and crystallising and becoming accepted normal behaviour. I can only attempt to discuss some of these matters by citing some common examples to support my argument. And, the madness that plaques Accra’s roads is a good point on which to start. Mind you that the matter of indiscipline and lawlessness on our roads is only a microcosm of the general lawlessness slowly but surely gripping our dear nation. I may have to write a few sad articles in this regard. But I’ll start with the madness that bedevils our roads. On that matter, I’m sure there’s common agreement.

Motorbikes: Is the Motor, Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) (the wing of Ghana’s Police responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules regarding motorists), blind to the recklessness and madness perpetuated by motorbike riders in Ghana? Why is the MTTU oblivious to the violation of simple traffic regulations by motorbikes? Motorbikes are hardly held up in traffic. They avoid long lines of traffic. But they are obliged to stop at traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts and junctions. For the past two years, motorbikes do not stop at traffic lights. They ride through red and amber lights. Why? The police stand idly and helplessly by and watch registered and unregistered bikes violate every traffic rule. They jump lights, ride on the wrong side of traffic and ride on pavements and central reservations. No attempt is made to stop them. Why? The dangerous practice of jumping red lights was started by bikes owned by courier companies’ years ago. Now it is standard practice. Annoyingly if I run over a motor bike that has unlawfully and foolishly jumped a light and injure its rider, I and not the rider will be locked in police cells for a few days. I will be asked to bear the idiot’s hospital and other bills. The MTTU, The National Road Safety Commission and other bodies responsible for ensuring road safety must tackle this matter. It cannot be delayed. They must confront these and other matters of recklessness and lawlessness on our roads now. They must carry out public education of motor riders for a couple of months on radio, TV and through leaflets and subsequent to that use force, (including running them off the road and rubber bullets) to stop this silliness. The police should be able to get our countless FM stations to run free continuous announcements informing bikers that it will no longer tolerate these traffic infractions and specify the sanctions for breaches. It must carry out these sanctions.

Other motorists: Foolish and reckless driving practices, originally the preserve of our generally non road traffic law abiding tro-tro and taxi drivers are now almost de rigueur among educated people, religious leaders, politicians and those who should know better. Let’s face it, a Passat, Toyota Freelander or Jaguar driver ought to know the difference between lawful and unlawful driving habits. They are most likely educated and know the rules. If they regularly and without regret drive on the hard shoulder, ran traffic lights, drive with their toddler children on their laps, overtake slow moving traffic by honking and insisting that oncoming traffic gives them way, there is a serious problem worthy of our attention.

In the past couple of months, the new practice is for people with links in government to have a police outrider clear their path for them. Every day one sees several privately owned cars ferrying “connected” people who shouldn’t have police escorts, forcing all traffic in their path out of their way. Any idiot in a state owned, state fuelled, $100,000.00 Toyota Landcruiser V8 just switches his hazard indicators on puts his headlamps on and whilst honking intermittently, insists that other road users get the hell out of their way! Why? It’s nonsense! Dare challenge them and they point at your head, insisting that you, and not them are mad. You hireling in the state owned Landcruiser V8 who bullies everyone to make way for you, you are the mad person not me. Not the rest of us. After all, you don’t buy fuel and don’t maintain that car so you can afford to sit in traffic. We can’t, especially with the new fuel prices. The question MTTU is; who has the right to overtake slow moving traffic? Politicians, ruling party cronies and errand boys, who? At least twice a week, gangs of youth on bikes and a convoy of cars on the way to bury someone at the muslim cemetery at East Legon elbow all traffic out of the way, bang on vehicles that don’t comply with their orders to let them through, and jump every traffic light between Nima and East Legon. Should this be allowed? Can’t the MTTU and NRSC meet with their Imams and other leaders, educate them and say “We will not tolerate this crap anymore!” The police should stop these convoys. It’s lawlessness.

Festive seasons are slaughter time. Particularly during Christmas and Easter, the MTTU, the NRSC and a few companies like MTN and Vodafon sponsor well intentioned but little impact radio, TV and newspaper ads entreating drivers to be careful, not to drink and drive etc. Christians are asked to pray for fewer accidents. These are hopeless pleas and prayers. How will a photo of people having a barbecue on a nice lawn with a small message urging one not to drink and drive ensure reduced road accidents? Let’s face it; our Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), NRSC, MTTU and our driving schools have collectively failed in their duty of ensuring that the average Ghanaian motorist understands what driving is all about. Driving is not a game, it requires care, patience and attention at all times. These are absent from our roads, hence the carnage. Occasional, posh, “corporate responsibility” adverts ran for a few days two or three times a year will not reduce the incidence. Our drivers must be taught that taking the steering wheel means care, responsibility and that driving is serious business.

The courts must severely punish drivers whose recklessness cause accidents. We may have to look at the degree of recklessness involved in some of these foolish “careless driving” cases and invoke manslaughter charges on some of these murderous drivers instead of the lame careless driving charge which more often than not results in these murderers walking off with a pitiable and non-deterrent fine. Police prosecutors stop being lazy. We must go back to the drawing board to look at our prosecutions for road offences properly. Punishments for road offences and murder on our roads must be stiffer. If only the police would do its work.

When a bus crashes and kills a few people, its world news and appears on BBC and CNN. But in Ghana we’ve come to accept these senseless deaths as part of our routine. On 22/1/13 Graphic said 24 people died in an accident on the Tamale-Buipe Road. It referred to an accident three months earlier in which 31 people died. Total deaths from those two accidents alone: fifty-five (55)! Last year, the Daily Graphic had several stories of motor accidents in which hundreds of people were killed and maimed. Yet we carry on unbothered. The suffering of those with debilitating injuries resulting from these accidents and the hell their families endure goes unnoticed. Sometimes, and mainly for political capital, a large convoy of politicians in well choreographed visits commiserate with the bereaved and offer them pitiable sums to help cushion their pain. Often, the cost of fuelling those 4.7L V8 Toyota Landcruisers and the logistical costs of these trips greatly outweighs the cash sums disbursed to the suffering.

A lot of these accidents are blamed wrongly by the police and unschooled journalists on failed brakes and burst front tyres. Brakes don’t fail suddenly and without notice, and burst front tyres contrary to commonly held Ghanaian lorry park lore, do not cause accidents. Nor do evil spirits. Drink driving, impatience, poorly judged overtaking procedures or “wrong overtaking”, sleeping at the wheel, vehicles in poor condition and driving at silly speeds without the requisite high speed driving skills, cause accidents. DVLA and Ghana Police’ inability to ensure that old, un-roadworthy and vehicles involved in serious accidents are refused Roadworthy Certificates and thereby help remove a serious threat to other motorists and the public from the road is gravely worrying. Under the excuse that people must “earn their daily bread” old, rickety trucks that should be scrapped are allowed on our roads with their attendant brake failures and weak suspensions. The result: accidents, death and horrible injuries for those who survive. Can’t these agencies collaborate to remove these potential death traps from our roads? As long as you can pay someone within DVLA, even if your vehicle is mangled beyond repair it will be certified as roadworthy.

The problem of mad, inconsiderate, uncouth driving reflects on us a people. Bad, inconsiderate, impatient, insulting behaviour from offending drivers, “bush” manners and miserable driving practices are the norm rather than the exception. I’ll be blunt; our road manners mirror how we have become as a people. Bullying, braggadocio, size matters, brawn rather than brain afflicts not only our driving, but also other aspects of our lives. Disrespect for simple rules, procedures and non-adherence to simple civil, civic duties, means that we are increasingly becoming an uncouth people who litter, urinate, park anyhow, sell anywhere, and can do anything without sanction or without any feeling of guilt. I’ll attempt to discuss that matter in a subsequent article.

For now however, my attention is on what we should do to reduce the chaos on our roads and the needless deaths and injury occurring on them. I’ve argued already that seasonal radio, TV and newspaper adverts, pleas for caution on the roads from the police, influential people and occasional fervent prayers are not working and will not work.

We need a drastic, aggressive, sustained, three to five year non-politicised initiative led by the President, under his supervision and presumably housed in the Jubilee House, forcefully and consistently implemented through the DVLA, NRSC, MTTU, the Ministry of Transport, driving schools and all other road traffic and road safety related agencies. To make it work, every government ministry, department and agency, municipal and district assembly must be involved in the initiative. This plan will aim at radically changing our behaviour on the road. Led by the President who has to get the buy in of corporate Ghana, civil society, religious bodies, social clubs, transport organisations and every conceivable and identifiable grouping, this attempt at behaviour reform must and will, permeate and impact every aspect of Ghanaian driving and pedestrian behaviour through radio, TV, the print media, our classrooms, lorry parks, shops and offices. Rather than the misplaced, weak, failed “Brand Ghana” attempt, this will save lives and help restore some order to our increasingly lawless country. Our current Highway Code does not emphasize safety. It shows us road signs. The aforementioned agencies, armed with knowledge of the most common road offences, must develop new handbooks for drivers, pedestrians and the general public with clear, simple illustrations of the do’s and don’ts of driving, pedestrian rights, duties and obligations. This manual or guide should be factored into the cost of any transaction at the DVLA and issued with every receipt. Every driver must have one. Every ministry, department and agency of government should implement the strategy for educating its staff on safe driving practices and pedestrian rights and obligations. DVLA, NRSC, the MTTU and the Ghana Actors Guild with the support of corporate Ghana should develop sustainable entertaining and educative TV and radio series to help the cause. I remember ‘Driver Banza’ a TV series which was educating and entertaining. Pedestrians and bikers in Ghana need fresh and sustained education about how, when and where to cross roads and where not to! School kids and adults must be taught this. We may have to re-test drivers, with an emphasis on safety. If we cannot honestly re-test our drivers because people will bribe their way through Ghanaian officials, let’s hire foreigners to do it for us! But not the Chinese!

Whist I’m at it, may I plead with the Department of Urban Roads or whoever is in charge of road signs to ensure that when zebra crossings are painted on the road, the requisite signs are also erected to warn drivers that they are approaching a zebra crossing. On the Spintex Road, there are several zebra markings on the road but no signs alerting drivers. Also given the general lack of attention Ghanaian drivers pay when driving, maybe our zebra crossing warning signs should have an extra sign underneath them which say “SLOW DOWN!” on a sign say a hundred metres to the crossing and another sign closer (say 50 metres) to the crossing which boldly says “STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS!” We may have to tailor our road signs even if crudely, to suit our peculiar needs. We should make them bolder, more in your face. The number of people run over by vehicles on Spintex Road is alarming. Late last year right before my eyes, a young woman was struck and killed at Eden Tree junction. The next night two others were run over. It’s haunted me. Her family will still be grieving whilst the speeding chap who knocked and killed her walks free, having probably done a deal with the police. He should have been driving at a slower speed so that zebra crossing warning or not he could have stopped for her to cross. A beautiful life wasted... That chap should be in jail.

In addition, the President must regularly in his public engagements with Ghanaian audiences, make the crusade against unsafe/bad driving practices part of his message.

It cannot be done overnight but it can be done. It must be done.

Johnny Blukoo-Allotey, Accra, Ghana.