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Opinions of Sunday, 21 May 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Cars Don?t Kill, Human Beings Do -Rejoiner


The human carnage that continue to unfurl on our roads daily is heart wrenching. Doctors, lawyers, traders, mothers, fathers, innocent babies all dying for no good reason. In a country where human resource is lacking, we can?t afford to lose our best and brightest on the roads. I trust that most Ghanaians abhor what is going on and would like to see long term sustainable solutions to the problem. In the name of urgency, and probably consternation with the carnage, we must not err into adopting simplistic and perhaps irrelevant solutions. It is for this reason that I totally disagree with Dr Kwaku Obosu-Mensah on his call for the removal of all 207 Mercedes Benz vans off the road. I think this call is misplaced and may have come more from Doc?s frustration, than it did, any objective evaluation of the situation in Ghana. The use of statistics to justify such a call is equally misleading, since the more 207s you have in a system the more accidents you will likely find with these vans. Never mind the rumor that most 207s that end up in Ghana are salvaged cars.

We, Ghanaians, can be very myopic in some instances. We?ve seen this in coup d?etat, get rich ?Kalabule? schemes and other business practices. The latter are aimed at short term gains without careful reasoning around long term implications. The critical mass of our policy wonks have literally morphed into first rate cognitive misers and malignant narcissists who love expediency instead of thorough planning. Don?t we know that 90% of the job is planning? Never mind the 10% that relates to execution. We don?t do that well either. We always look at things in the near term without thinking about long term consequences. So, over the years, we?ve driven our road safety system into a state of chaos. Human greed and recklessness underlie the problem that we are dealing with. Not too long ago, vehicles did fail road worthiness tests. These days, such exercises represents a kitchen of meaty soups for program administrators.

I am not an expert on road safety. What I can do though, is apply the free commonsense that God gave me. Commonsense tells me that, corrupt licensing process, bad roads, lack of driver qualification, poor law enforcement, bad road signage, alcohol abuse, poor driver judgement, lack of effective outreach programs, a broken court system, intransigent and corrupt auto insurance enclave, lack of quality cars due to bad import policies, lack of standards for car parts, pedestrian error, absence of transportation master plan, and poor integration of multi-modal transport system is causing these uncalled for accidents. The entire system is bankrupt. What needs to happen is a systems approach to taming this beast. What we see in the form of accidents, is the end result of a complex set of reasons. It cannot be attributed to a van or a particular car!! I am convinced without a doubt that if the driver of that van was not driving a 207 Mercedes bus, his reasoning or the road conditions would not have been any different. To blame an inanimate van for the judgment error of a human being is rather unfortunate. It is the same as saying that guns kill by themselves. We all know better!

Besides, One Mr Peprah is reported by Graphic newspaper to have said this: "Mr Peprah described the situation as horrible and attributed it to gross disrespect for traffic regulations. He said the failure of drivers to rest when they were tired, as well as their impatience, also contributed to road accidents." This goes to further show that the problem was not mechanical or vehicular.

Folks, where in this world can a commercial driver park his or her car along a busy road and voluntarily go get a shot of local vodka affectionately dubbed ?kill me quick? or ?VC 10?? Kill you quick? You and who I might ask? Is this not the same Akpeteshie that we know of? Lucky you, if all the driver gets is a shot VC 10!! I am not saying this happened in the case of this driver but we all know it does happens more frequently in Ghana that we care to admit.

Let us look, for example, at the consequences of a highhanded car import policy. Because of the cost of imports for cars, most people opt to bring in older model and mechanically flawed cars that sell on the cheap in the west or elsewhere. Some even choose to buy accident or salvaged cars overseas and fix them in Ghana. There are lots of these cars in Ghana. I am sure a lot more Katrina damaged cars will end up in Ghana. Bringing a new car to Ghana is like taking a scissor and cutting off the bottom of your pocket. You will bleed cash into a money hungry system. The net effect is that most of the cars coming into the country are not quality. Additionally, there is no check on the quality of the cars coming in. So long as you pay your CEPS fees, you are free to go. No emission test or road worthiness!! Blatantly smoking cars attract cheaper import duties than their cleaner counterparts. The next check on tap is even more useless. The licensing of a car in Ghana is a joke. The last stop, which is the police force, is even more pathetic. Need I say more? Do you clearly see a disturbing picture of what is going on?

Take our drivers of commercial vehicles. Most of them are not formally educated and find their way into the driving seat by way of working as ?mates? or ?Aplanke? as we popularly know them. Now, don?t get me wrong. I am not making the argument that formally educated folks are better drivers than others. The point I want to fatten is that, lack of formal education could impact how one drives. Never mind one?s reasoning ability in general. If one is not able to read instructions, chances are they cannot fully use all the tools in the car. Also, some do not understand how cars work and that also can contribute to accidents. All of these, points to the need for a much more careful system of legitimizing drivers. If with formal education, people can be terrible drivers, imagine the absence of education. If we have to translate information into local languages to help, then so be. Driving is not just a mechanical operation but mental endeavor as well. The fact that a person can move a car must not lead to automatic certification. In our case, we are lucky even if drivers are mechanically tested. No?

Police corruption on the road has not been helpful either. The police in Ghana will rather take a bribe and let off a negligent driver than worry about the thousands of passengers who use the car for transportation purposes. The little number that ends up in court either bribe their way or get slapped on the wrist. No credible remedial driving education exists in the system. Notorious drivers with a record of repeated violations continue to ply the road. There is even no information system that retain fresh data on individual driving activity over the years. There is no data base to help fashion policies or deal with trends. So for all you know, the police could have a recidivist driver on their hands and not know it. Don?t worry, the more inveterate your offense, the more fat or pork it garners for the corrupt police crooks. Given the backdrop of daunting challenges, you wouldn?t think this is the same country that can afford a 30 million presidential mansion to befit a modern day president king, huh? Yet poor Mercedes 207 is the culprit here? Blame the car! Ban it! What next? 504, 345, 740, 300? Just take your pick! Where will all these unqualified and crazy drivers go when you take the 207s off the road? Togo? Ivory Coast? Agege?

We need a quality regime in Ghana. Some sort of standards board that continue to ensure that cars and parts for such are the best on the market. As it stands, most owners use, used parts for their cars. Some of these parts have outlived their usefulness. Even some unused parts can be of poor quality. Yet, we permit them into the system. Yes, we can institute standards for parts if we choose to. We can do this for both new and old parts. We can create jobs by doing it too. If the slew of Phds, parading as leaders, cannot figure this out, then God save us. I did not say it will be easy. However, opting for the path of least resistance should not be our default position.

Some of us have advocated an address system as a fundamental requirement for economic development. Now, a facet of this project could be a signage unit that works on road signs. Road names and signs can also help to improve safety. Posting speed limits and signs to denote dangerous areas of the road will help. One laughable practice that has survived till this day is the use of tree branches to denote danger or an inconvenience on the road. My gawd! What is wrong with us? Why can we use prison labor to do all these? Even the paragons of democracy do this as we speak! We have more opportunities to create jobs and better ourselves than we care to exploit. Do these politicians who travel to funerals every weekend not see the rot? Are their consciences not seared enough? What exactly has the NPP done to enhance road safety? Even as their own party folks and key member become victims of this deplorable situation, the eerie silence continues. When are we going to act?

When accidents occur, the first thing to do, is to send a team of investigators to check on what happened and how it can be humanly avoided going forward. In our case, we see no reports and our policies are also not informed by such findings. Why is it so? How else will we get the real truth instead of blaming cars? We need serious analysis to lead us to objective solutions. Such findings could even inform legislation and outreach programs. We seem to be a people who are not willing and able to learn from our own experiences. This attitude is most in need of change. Let us use our experiences to make life a lot better than it is.

Any attempt to adopt simplistic solutions to this problems will fail. We need comprehensive data driven solutions. We need commonsense solutions that are systems oriented. Treating the hand or leg when the whole body is infected will not work. Even if 207 is not a good car, and that is not the case here, we will be scratching the surface if we don?t look at the human factor. After all, human beings make the decisions. Once again, we must nudge our leaders into action. Why is our parliament not holding hearing on this? Where are the transportation experts? Who authorized the conversion of these cargo van into a commercial passenger vehicle? How does this spate of accidents affect tourism? These and many more questions must be answered as we find long term sustainable solutions to the this nightmare.

While our leaders must act, don?t forget to educate or inform your neighbor about bad driving practices and it consequences. Talk about these issues at the dinning tables or chop bars. Encourage each other to be careful and mindful of other motorist. Teach you kid about how to walk and cross the road. Make sure that your vehicle is well maintained in the midst of all the other challenges. Don?t drink and drive! The bottom line is to speak up, and work with your friends and family to make Ghana a better place to in. A lot depends on us, the citizens more than it does these so called leaders. It all starts with us!!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.