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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Columnist: Atuahene, Kwame

Road Saftey; Law Enforcement seems ....

ROAD SAFETY; LAW ENFORCEMENT SEEMS THE OBVIOUS MAGIC POTION

The World Health Organization (WHO) proactively declared road safety in 2004 as a public health issue that needs an urgent approach if the figures were to be any accommodating. It reports quite disturbingly that 1.2 million people are killed on roads every year and up to 50 million more are injured and further warns and predicts that, if action is not taken, the number of people killed and injured on the world’s roads will rise by more than 60% between 2000 and 2020.

Most of these injuries according to WHO will occur in developing countries where more and more people are using motorized transport. In these countries, cyclists, motorcyclists, users of public transport, and pedestrians are especially vulnerable to road traffic injuries These global figures might seem too distant from the immediate reality hence a sluggish approach to dealing with the obvious worry. Statistics however available on Ghana from the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC), the institution set up by the state to coordinate and promote road safety indicates that; about 1600 people die annually in Ghana through road traffic accidents, at least four (4) die daily in road traffic accidents; 70% of the accidents occur on the flat and straight roads; 60% caused by speeding; the 18-55 age group being the most affected group with just some 18% of the accidents occurring between 6 and 8 pm. The motivation for this missive is derived from the scary statistic on our situation and the unknown future. It is nerve-racking to think that a greater percentage of the country’s labor force is potentially at risk on our roads and that the quest for good roads have become a necessary evil, as most of the accident have been reported on our flat and seemingly good roads. I8% might seem inconsequential but not entirely so when it accounts for accidents in the evening bringing in issue the obvious question of visibility on our roads The question arises as to whether these figures or the conditions giving rise to this sorry state is irreversible or unmanageable? I respectfully think not in the affirmative. If success has been recorded elsewhere, Ghana can equally take its destiny into its own hands. The National Road Safety Commission has been around since 1999 having been established by an Act of Parliament. It was forthwith mandated to onerously promote road safety in Ghana, a job they have dispensed in my view with relative success. The Road Safety Dialogue, a mouth piece of the National Road Safety Commission, (Vol 2 No 6 Jan-June 2007) edition asserts in a feature on page 6 that, education was yielding results following from the provisional figures available from the regions. That can be appreciated due to the effect of education in imparting knowledge or changing attitudes. I however take the view that, the perfect prescription to deal with the nuisance is a strict enforcement of the regulations available. What purpose in any case, will the law serve if it becomes a dark-horse and a dormant piece of construction of the draftsman? One luminous piece of legislation which holds the key to the mess and hypertensive statistics on our roads is the Road Traffic Act, Act 683, 2004. I disturbingly think that, the fine and proactive provisions in that piece have not enjoyed the expected or anticipated enforcement. To say the least its implementation has been abysmal I hold the view that, enforcement of available regulations on this subject will do a lot of good to this country. Law, for that matter regulation has the obvious intent of regulating our attitudes and effectively so when they are made mandatory A skim through one piece of publication by the NRSC on “Know Your Road Signs and Markings” clearly spells out the mandatory requirement of some of the signs and some others described as cautionary and informatory. The certain source of the mandatory signs is the Road Traffic Act, Act 638, 2004. Section 28 of the Road Traffic Act provides for example that, where a traffic sign of a prescribed size, colour and type or of another character authorized has been lawfully laced on or near a road a person driving among others is expected to comply with them or face a fine, imprisonment or both. Very significant to the statistics are the signs on speed limits, over takings, pedestrian pass/ entry bars among others. Speed is at the core of the injury problem. However speed control bumps are increasingly common on our roads. According to the World Health Organization, speed bumps reduced the number of crashes by 35% between 2000 and 2001. Fatalities fell by 55% and serious injuries by 76 at a crash hot spot on the Accra-Kumasi highway. The enforcement of the mandatory speed limits advertised by the road signs in my view has become a mirage as the facility to help check speeds are limited and have become open knowledge that, most of the few are dysfunctional to the extent that drivers constantly challenge or contest the judgment of the officers who tend to prove their claim of over speeding The fact that, alcohol impairment causes road crash injuries can not be easily debunked as it is supported by statistics and not perception. Its indulgence has prompted a make-shift regulation as to their ban at lorry parks in Ghana, a measure I find as not only ridiculous but also as vastly ineffective. This is because in Ghana it is common to find drinking bars with little stress as the addicted driver can always find a sip or dose in the neighborhood In Australia for example, the adoption and enforcement of a Random Breath Testing proved to be helpful for it has been estimated in that country that, since 1993, it has led to a reduction in alcohol related deaths of about 40%. Similar opportunity avails in Ghana per the authority granted the police by the Road Traffic Act of 2004, where a police officer is by section 6 authorized to take breath test when he reasonably suspects that, a person driving or attempting to drive has alcohol in his body. The elaborate framework prescribes a fine, imprisonment or both upon summary conviction, where the person without reasonable cause fail to provide specimen. The application of the legal solutions in this area has been at a snail pace in my opinion. In our quest to sanitize our roads, the essence of seatbelts and their use is a well noted strategy. It is nonetheless sad to say that many of the vehicles especially in rural Ghana do not have these belts let alone talk of enforcing their use. Those who however have them have made it seem as if their use is a favour other than an obligation imposed by law. It must be remarked that, the National Road Safety Commission did chalk a tremendous success in early days of the campaign for the use of seatbelts. Not same can be said of it today as the enforcement aspect of the campaign in my view has been extremely awful In the Republic of Korea for instance, use of seatbelts rose from 23%in 2000 to 98% in 2001 sustained into 2002 following a national campaign of police enforcement, a publicity campaign and an increase in fines for non-use. The result was a 5.9% decrease in fatal road traffic crashes and fatalities. Ghana is fortunately not isolated legally on this point either as, section 13 of the Road Traffic Act provides that a person of 18 or above who drives a motor vehicle on our road or sits on the front rear without wearing a seat belt commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine, imprisonment or both. The system has been overly tolerant of the needless breach of a regulation with the potential to reduce fatalities and injuries by between 40- 60 %, according to the World Health Organization. It will reasonably prompt some savings dealing with emergencies in our wards. Disguise policing will be helpful in this area as many commercial drivers have come to appreciate the essence of their use only when they approach the police check-posts Another regulatory intervention which has not been pursued and enforced to the letter is the section crafted to ensure that we keep and maintain safe vehicles on our roads. A good number of the intra-city buses can best be described as “moving coffins” owing to their frailty and decrepit state. It is proof of a system break down in so far as enforcement is concerned. Particularly so , where Part V of the Road Traffic Act provides for quite a substantial piece of solution as it is required of every car to be examined every six months and one year for private and commercial vehicles respectively. Section 99 of the Road Traffic Act is authority for the intendment of vehicle examination. It is a measure of ascertaining whether the vehicles when used on our roads will not pose any danger or injury to any person or damage to property. I respectfully think that the regulation stand defeated as there are a good number of such dangerous and injury-prone vehicles on our roads. A legitimate question arises as to how and where these examinations are done, as some of the cars prima facie do not deserve our roads as they are visibly dilapidated as you doubt if they ever complied with this regulation and if they did, by what standard were they permitted to inflict injury and cost to the unsuspecting passenger. One institution that can not escape blame is the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA). The usual logistical deficiencies will be proffered as an excuse for the inefficiencies. Be that as it may, some of these feeble cars and buses deserve no more than a summary ruling on their unworthiness to ply our roads as their state require no exert disapproval. Often-times, faulty vehicles are left unattended to on our roads. The result is the reported run-ins on our highways. Section 21 of the Road Traffic Act outlaws this practice but it is yet to be seen whether it reflects the condition on our roads. It could be observed that an unequivocal application of the law would be valuable in an attempt to make our roads accident free and to make achievable the vision of the National Road Safety Commission, of making Ghana a country with the safest road transportation in Africa. It must however be conceded that though solutions to road safety problems are bound, no single pill exist in dealing with the menace.

I nonetheless strongly find favour for an enforcement of the law due to their resultant penal consequences which has the potential to deter recurrence and change attitudes. After all, laws are not drafted to serve our exhibitive desires but to inhibit our delinquent attitudes. It must however be remarked that the recent Motor Traffic Court set up to allow for a fast track dispensation of traffic offences should be replicated as it will send the exact signal as to our seriousness.

It will serve our collective good if institutions like DVLA, NRSC, MTTU and the likes are well resourced to allow for an achievement of our medium to long term goals in ensuring and assuring safety on our roads.

The author is a broadcast journalist, student of the law and a road safety advocate. Could be reached on kkoduah2006@yahoo.com

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