Feature Article of Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Columnist: Okyere Bonna

Is DVLA's New Licensing Policy Bogus?

DVLA's new licensing policy is not only relevant to the economy and health of Ghana but a gift in disguise. DVLA has rightly identified its use of 'education' as 'literacy'; meaning ability to read and write as in encoding and decoding written symbols. DVLA did not ask for book-long or classical education! So why should anyone of us think DVLA's new licensing policy is bogus? It must be reiterated that DVLA has already expressed its intention to allow people ample time (up to 4 years) to acquire the said literacy.

The action of DVLA is in line with the government’s policy on mass literacy campaign and it must be applauded... It cannot be disputed that the government’s decision to require drivers to be literate was based on rational grounds. Of course the rationale is not because literate people are necessarily better drivers but as one observer argues, “Driving in the modern world attracts a lot of paper work and drivers place a burden upon officials when they cannot fill in the simplest forms”.

World Bank report on sub-Saharan countries revealed a high level of fatalities from accidents. The biggest group of victims is pedestrians followed by passengers in public service vehicles. Let us not make the mistake by thinking that driving is just sitting behind the wheels. It comprises more than that. It includes knowing your road and frequent changes as may be communicated or alerted by road signs.

As one has observed, in Ghana part of the side effects of illiteracy are anti intellectualism, and minds which operate from straight jackets. If Ghana wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) mass literacy campaign is inevitable. Ghana has no option but to cope with modern society and its growing demands for literacy.

Let’s be realistic. What is so difficult about asking drivers to be able to identify road signs? Or to learn to read and write? I think this is a gift DVLA is giving to our drivers and it is in line with United Nations call to reduce road accidents in Africa. It sounds a bit interesting to me if people in this forum would find a problem about this laudable and bold decision made by DVLA. The least we can do is to give DVLA our support if this would mean compelling folks who want to drive to acquire some (or add to their) basic education. What is so difficult about asking the "trotro" or taxi driver to take an hour a day to learn his alphabets (Yes, I mean in English not in any local language, first and foremost) if we say the lingual Franca in Ghana is English. We may not like it as it sounds but our constitution is in the English language not in any local dialect, so we cannot discriminate here. Besides, we need to think global. Remember any willing driver would be able to learn to read and write his or her name as well as knowing how to read basic road signs. At 95 Nola Ochs moved 100 miles from her farm southwest of Jetmore in the USA to an apartment on campus to complete the final 30 hours to get a general studies degree with an emphasis on history. Carl Manning covers the feat of the 95 year old woman thus: “Sitting on the front row in her college classes carefully taking notes, Nola Ochs is just as likely to answer questions as to ask them. That's not the only thing distinguishing her from fellow students at Fort Hays State University. She's 95, and when she graduates May 12, 2007 she'll be what is believed to be the world's oldest person to be awarded a college degree. The record Ochs will break, according to Guinness World Records, belongs to Mozelle Richardson, who at age 90 in 2004 received a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma (Associated Press April 27, 2007) [READ http://www.myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=Oldest_Graduate_AP]

If a 95 year old can get a degree. How can we say it is silly to ask our drivers to go to school or learn to recognize road signs? Indeed if we want to solve the carnage on our roads when we cannot oppose every innovation. Indeed anyone who knows how to drive, especially in Ghana where most cars are not automatic can be classified as intelligent and a potential classroom material, irrespective of age. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Nobody is saying universal ability to read road signs will eradicate road accidents but it will definitely help. Think about the confidence of the then "illiterate" (so called) driver now able to read basic sentences or able to write and read names/road signs. They will even be able to pick up a newspaper and be able to identify issues of national concern. You can't beat this. Yes, nobody is advocating making everyone "book long" but the price of a literate society is unquantifiable; above all a literate driver. It is priceless. A little education is better than none at all. If Nkrumah's government saw mass education as tantamount to independence why can't we applaud the NPP and Kufour's administration for revisiting or reviving the spirit of and endorsing literacy after 50 years of independence?

Indeed, if after 50 years of independence and the era of free education our government would be criticized for asking folks to go to school or learn to read and write before driving then Ghana has a problem. I bet this is all indication of how partisan some of us have become. Where is our national pride?

This is not an issue to politicize here. Globally, road accidents do away with 1.2m people and wound millions more. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), developing countries, mostly from Africa account for 85% of world traffic fatalities. Even sad is the fact that most of those killed in motto accidents in Africa are the youth. According to a World Health Organization report, in Africa, pedestrians and passengers, as opposed to drivers, are worst hit, with children making up a large number of those killed. Some drivers even hit pedestrians at zebra crossing.

Ghana reported 127,182 road accidents between 1991 and 2004 in which 17,126 deaths were recorded. According to the MTTU boss, from January 1992 to December 2002, Ghana officially reported 116,292 accident cases throughout the country. This resulted in 11,256 death and 87,650 injuries. Road safety experts have pegged the annual death toll through accident at about 2200 at an average of 6 persons per day. This number is 5 times the number of deaths through violent crimes such as murders, armed robbery, manslaughter etc.

We cannot expect DVLA to be less proactive in solving the problem. Of course, many factors contribute to road accidents in Ghana but our drivers’ inability to identify and read road signs is one of them. Lack of education, lack of road signs and lack of law enforcement all add to the escalation of the problem. Pedestrians do not even have the right of way in Africa unlike in the West where the traffic laws are enforced. In Ghana one just has to use caution when crossing at a designated zebra crossing and or walking on the side of the road. Why?

An observer (opposition) has expressed that, without a doubt this (DVLA proposal) is plain silly. He argued, “Where is the study that proves the more education you have the less likely you are to cause an accident." I ask folks who think it is a silly choice to ask folks to learn to read and write to step back and reconsider the government's decision and its long term effect on Ghana. The best any government can give its citizens is some education. Education has no bearing on age; it is an ongoing process. Let us not deny our brothers and sisters (or even fathers and mothers) the challenge of a classroom (night school) experience. This would be a first step of changing the mindset of the Ghanaian. Any willing soul is able. Let's stop the condescending and challenge our brothers and sisters that they can do it. Someone has observed, “It is said that some Ghanaians immigrants cannot fill in the most basic forms!” Think about the gift DVLA would have given any of our drivers who hitherto could not read and write when they travel abroad; say for a vacation, when they appear before the immigration officer? Furthermore, learning to read and write is a basic tool to modern living and governments must use ALL means to promote literacy.

We all accept that nothing good comes cheaply. Good things usually come with a price attached. So if the price to pay to drive is knowing your basic letters then so be it. The truth of the matter is DVLA has given a window of time and any serious learner can learn the basics within six months at the rate of 120 minutes basic lessons per week. What we need to do is to encourage the districts to make room to organize and make sure materials are available to those who want to learn in order to pass their driving test.