Curbing Road Accidents In Ghana – A Long Term Solution

Wed, 6 Jul 2011 Source: Boateng, P. K.

By P K Boateng, East London, South Africa

“Road accidents cost nation $288 million in 2008”. This was the chilling story as told by the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) in Ghana and reported by newspapers in Ghana recently. The $288m 2008 does not include the direct and indirect cost of road accidents to relatives of victims – wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children etc - such as funeral costs and the cost of having to do without loved ones and breadwinners. Through road accidents, many children and other dependants of victims have become destitute. Companies, businesses, state institutions (departments, hospitals, schools and colleges, universities etc) have lost many experienced and competent employees through road accidents. The cost of road accidents for 2009 and 2010 has yet to be released. We are all holding our breadth to see what the figures for those two years will be.

Suffice it to say that motor accidents have enormous negative social and economic consequences, especially in a third world country like Ghana which has no strong state support system that assists the injured and relatives of deceased victims of road accidents. What makes Ghana’s situation worse is that majority of the people do not have life and disability insurance policies from which they or their dependants can get some financial support when they are involved in accidents.

The above very distressing situation thus calls for drastic intervention by the government and its agencies like the DVLA and the Police and indeed all citizens to play their role in ensuring drastic reduction in road accidents in Ghana. It is very heartening that the DVLA is at long last taking the initiatives to address the problem – undoubtedly one of the biggest concerns and fears of every Ghanaian. Let’s hope that the new initiatives will make our roads safe.

Much has been written already in this forum about road accidents in Ghana and how to curb it. This article is intended to reinforce the importance of the subject matter and offers some more suggestions on long term solution to road accidents.

Rehashing the causes of road accidents:

One of the problems that readily comes to mind is - how some of the current drivers plying on Ghana’s roads (and those at whose hands countless souls have been lost or maimed) obtained their driving licences and how road-worthy certificates were issued for the many vehicles that have been involved in road accidents or are still plying on the roads.

Bearing in mind that it is a fact of life that no official service is rendered in Ghana without bribe being paid, who can doubt that many drivers are using licences they ‘bought’ and many vehicles with serious defects have been passed to ply on the nation’s roads because monies exchanged hands between the vehicle owners and those whose responsibilities were to inspect the vehicles and issue or deny road-worth certificates? We cannot discount this bribery factor in any objective analysis of the causes of road accidents in Ghana.

With the stark statistics about the number of road deaths or people injured and the staggering cost of road accidents, I am sure the conscience of any DVLA official who compromised on his/her sacred duty to ensure that only competent drivers were issued with licenses and only road-worthy vehicles were passed – should be pricking him or her. Those who took bribes and issued drivers’ licences must be smelling the blood of many innocent passengers who have died on their hands. And the daily cries of widows, widowers, orphans, mothers, fathers and disabled victims of road accident should be giving them sleepless nights.

It is a known fact that some DVLA officials even sell ‘international drivers’ licences’ to Ghanaians living abroad which they subsequently convert into genuine drivers’ licences in the countries they are living. Some of the holders of the fake international driving licences that I know have died in horrific road accidents.

The first major cause of road accidents in Ghana is poor driving skills. I have witnessed this many times as a passenger myself. Other causes are the normal ones we know very well:

• Drivers with poor eye sights

• Driver fatigue (dozing behind the steering wheel)

• Drunkenness by drivers

• Over-speeding by motorists

• Defective vehicles

• Overloading

• Poor roads

• Non-existent road markings and signs

To the reforms that the DVLA is embarking on I would like them to consider the following suggestions:

1. The reforms must result in adequate controls being put into place to make the ‘purchase’ of drivers’ licences and issuance of road-worthy certificates to defective vehicles, impossible. Officials of DVLA must always remember that they have sacred responsibility to ensure safety on our roads. They must not compromise on those responsibilities under any circumstance, especially in the issuance drivers’ licence.

2. Secondly the reforms must also result in sweeping legislative reforms (by Parliament) that will:

a. Force every driver in Ghana to go for an eye test, at least once every five years. Drivers with poor eye sights will be required to go for sight and reading aids and thereafter re-tested or their licenses must be revoked. The simple eye testing equipment can be installed in all the DVLA regional or district offices to facilitate easy testing.

b. Impose heavy penalty on drunken drivers. Penalties may include fines, revocation of licence and imprisonment. The efficacy of any equipment to be used to test blood alcohol must be without question especially as the courts will be partners in the overall strategy to curb senseless killings on the roads.

c. Make the use of speed cameras to catch and punish speeding drivers. Hefty fines for over-speeding always serve as deterrence to motorists. DVLA must put in mechanisms to discourage bribe-taking by its officers who are trapping speedsters on the road as such behaviour have the effect of undermining the whole exercise of reducing road accidents.

d. Make it mandatory for all drivers in Ghana to be re-tested – both in the theory and practice of driving – within the next three years. We must not delude ourselves – many drivers plying on the roads in Ghana currently are not fit to be behind steering wheels. It is a fact that many motorists in Ghana do not know when it is safe to overtake another vehicle. The public-private-partnership initiative mentioned as part of the reform must make it possible for DVLA to contract with a foreign country to allow its Driving Licensing Authority to undertake the re-testing and training of all drivers in Ghana. I am sure that the US, for example or any of the European countries will be keen to assist Ghana in this regard – through a bi-lateral agreement.

3. Good roads and constant maintenance of roads are crucial elements in any road safety strategy. Ghana’s roads are generally not good. Paradoxically we drive first world vehicles on third world roads. The efforts by DVLA to curb road accidents may be compromised by bad roads especially those that have been allowed to have potholes that can even swallow elephants. No strategy to reduce road carnage will succeed if it is not complemented by good road repairs and maintenance. In laying the blame for the many deaths that have occurred on Ghana’s roads, the government of Ghana must not be spared. In Ghana small potholes are usually left to become barrel-holes because we do not have a national infrastructure repair and maintenance culture. The responsibility for maintaining and repairing roads in Ghana can be delegated to Metropolitan and District Assemblies and young men and women in the area trained and equipped to undertake them. Road repairs in some countries like South Africa (through their Expanded Public Works Programme) serve as employment opportunities for many young men and women in a locality.

4. Adequate and effective signs and road markings are critically essential in any strategy to curb road accidents. Motorists rely on good road signs and markings to make decisions such as whether to overtake or slow down or stop. When there are no road signs and markings, driving always becomes a risky adventure. The DVLA (or whichever body is responsible for erecting road signs) must ensure that all roads in Ghana are adequately marked and that road signs are clearly visible – day and night (most especially in places where road constructions are in progress).

5. Sustained traffic safety campaign throughout the year using the many community radios, posters, banners and the television to emphasize on road safety must be embarked upon by the DVLA. The DVLA must also start working with the Ministry of Education to introduce road safety in the curriculum of Secondary Schools in Ghana. In addition to the road safety campaign, DVLA may start daily traffic news bulletin using the many radio stations to advise motorists on road conditions and hazards such as vehicle breakdowns, accidents, road works, flooded rivers etc – throughout the country. Such a service in a small country like Ghana with many radio stations will be invaluable to motorists. Perhaps officials of DVLA may come to South Africa to see how Rob Bryne and his team are helping South African motorists especially during the rush hours of the morning and the evening.

6. Lastly the government should set up a ‘road accidents fund’ into which a percentage of the taxes on fuel and toll roads revenue will be paid. All road accident victims – dependants of deceased victims and seriously injured passengers - may be paid some money from the fund. The payments will go a long way to ameliorate the hardship families face due to motor accidents.

And to all the families in Ghana who have lost dear ones through motor accidents – (including my niece, Monica, who lost her graduate son in a road accident in Brong Ahafo recently), my heartfelt condolence pours out to you. It is the appalling and corrupt road traffic system in Ghana that failed you. But take heart that danger on the road may soon be a thing of the past – if the present government commits itself to make driving on Ghana’s road, safe.

Columnist: Boateng, P. K.