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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Why Ghana has one of the worst road accident records in the world

By George Sydney Abugri

Maybe we need to dig up all the statistics necessary to confirm or repudiate the report which is to the unenviable effect that Ghana has the highest road accident fatality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and the world.

Attempts by the BBC to establish the reasons for the appalling and ever worsening rate of road accidents in African countries has often been met with some hostility: When a BBC producer of an online survey asked a question a few years ago about the causes of the many road accidents in most African countries he received some angry responses.

He had posed the questions, "Why are there so many accidents on Africa’s roads? What do you think needs to be done to make the roads safer?"

One respondent veered to a prompt defence of the image of Africa, instead of dealing directly with the questions. "Africa is not a country. It is a continent and a huge one at that. You have asked a naive question about Africans.

The BBC is asking these questions as if accidents do not occur in Europe and America. Why discuss Africa's minor problems and leave out the major ones such as HIV/AIDS, the lack of political stability and lack of economic development?"

What is supposed to be a joke outside Africa, to the effect that it is not communicable diseases that are killing the continent’s people, but motor cars, is a dead serious matter that has some truth to it:

To have a rough average of more than 10, 000 people killed in road accidents in Ghana every four years as some statistics seem to suggest, gives a clear picture of the road safety crisis which has plagued the nation for many years now.

The problem of high road accident rates is only one of many glaring examples of the distressing consequences of development planning gone awry in African countries like Ghana.

What is development? Is it tarred roads, cars, electricity, sky-¬bound buildings and some fast food joints? Can urbanization rightly be referred to as "development", even when such urbanization has only led to congestion and a road transport system gone dangerously wrong?

There seem to be too many motor vehicles in Ghana for a country of her size. In the meantime, there are not enough roads to drive them safely on! I sometimes wonder if planners in the transport sector know the rate of annual increase in the population of motor vehicles.

Generalized and ambiguous references to "road accidents", makes it difficult to get down to specifics regarding the problems facing road transport management. When we get down to specifics, we realize that head-on collisions for example, are invariably the result of narrow, two lane, and pothole-riddled roads!

Other specifics in the description of road accidents, may lead us to an appreciation of the grave dangers posed by the absence of speed limit signs where they are needed, the poor "sight distances" at many road curves and on hilly terrain across the country, the absence of guardrails along many steep slopes and the poor design of the sides of some roads.

Other specifics may lead us to an appreciation of the need to do something about the fundamental economics of commercial transport in Ghana which culminates in the following frightening equation: “More passengers plus break-neck speed equals maximum profit.”

60 instead of 42 passengers are crammed into an old, rickety bus literally falling apart. Many a passenger is seated uncomfortably on a quarter of a buttock. Several passengers are hanging out through doors and windows. The bus goes hurtling down a two lane road full of potholes, at the maximum speed the driver can coax out of the decaying hulk!

The cops conduct road safety checks, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of erring motorists from time to time, but a fat lot of good it appears to be doing road safety. For all their gallant efforts, traffic police prosecutors emerge from the court room to find a thousand more motorists waiting to break every single road traffic regulations in the Highway Code:

They charge into and out of lanes like heat-seeker missiles, charge on to main roads from arterial roads without any warning, suddenly branch off from main roads onto side roads without warning, stop abruptly in the rapid stream of motor traffic and do a lot worse.

To be able to manage safe road transport in a situation like ours, you need appropriate road surveillance technology and equipment and enough traffic police officers. You won't usually find a traffic police man within a ten-kilometer radius, when dare devil drivers are at their very worst.

In the meantime, the nation can only wait with justified apprehension to see whether by December ending this year, the road accident fatality rates for 2016 will drop lower or go higher than the 2015 statistics.