Opinions Wed, 10 Sep 2014

Fighting fatigue driving in Ghana involves holistic approach

By Samuel Hinneh

The fundamental economics of African travel is attributed to the issue of speeding for profit and target set by car owners due to the absence of transport subsidies etc. The Ghanaian economy encourages speed and overloading largely due to the outcomes of the terms and working conditions of commercial transport operations in Ghana.

Ghana’s management and administration of the transport industry is about 80 percent of the vehicles privately owned with each vehicle owner defining a different terms of employment and conditions of work to suit their purpose. With limited opportunities available in the industry, it is an estimated ratio of three drivers per one vehicle. The absence of a standard code of practice results in the absence of protection for the drivers, such as the non-payment of social security, the ease for an employer to use and lay a driver off, among others.

Moreover, most of the drivers work in poor conditions without rest or the benefit of taking an annual leave. Majority are poorly remunerated far below the minimum wage. In the presence of this predicament the drivers try to maximize passenger kilometre on the principle of more passengers, faster speed to earn more money.

The situation is aggravated by the lack of effective law enforcement and regulation. Long hours of work in trying to maximize passenger kilometre cause them to live under poor conditions on the road, which expose them to the dangers of contracting diseases, theft and other forms of dangers which creates both physical and emotional problems. Some of the physical and emotional health challenges reported includes fatigue, frustrations, loneliness, sleeplessness, waist pains, chronic headaches etc. for which they resort to all forms of self-medications with some using unauthorized drugs and alcohol with their related safety implications.

The mitigation factors required to address these issues are multi-faceted and complex involving different stakeholders. There is the need to standardise the code of practice in the industry. Driver unions or other interest parties could establish companies for which vehicle owners could buy equities with fixed income. This will allow the industry to operate as a corporate business entity with structured and formalised systems, which can be regulated.

In the absence of this unions need to dialogue and bargain with vehicle owners to ensure that the terms and conditions of service defined within the terms of the Trade Union Congress’s (TUC) regulatory framework. Other policy issues relating to affordability and maintenance of vehicles, enforcement, driver qualifications, licensing etc. would also addressed.

Road safety researchers and experts are working around the clock to find a solution to the problem scientifically. One means of measuring fatigue driving is Pupillography which is the measurement of the reactions of the pupil. According to Dr Herbert Helmle from AMTech Pupilknowlogy GmbH based in Germany, over the years pupillography has become a proven, efficient method of detecting and measuring fatigue.

“Driver fatigue - like drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints - leads to death and serious injury on the roads,” says Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.

“Sleep deprivation and disorders, working long periods before a trip, and issues which impact particularly on commercial drivers such as long-distance driving without a rest and driving under time pressure are among the factors which contribute to driver fatigue. Fortunately, prevention is possible. Treating sleep disorders, providing facilities for rest and recuperation, and setting and enforcing working and driving hour limits are among the strategies which can help to reduce driver fatigue, improve safety on the roads and save lives,” Dr Krug says.

The National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) of Ghana in the course of its activities have launched a campaign on fatigue driving and by far is one of the successful campaign implemented by the commission. The NRSC have been consistent with the message to draw attention to fatigue driving considered as the silent killer, given that few people have the composure to take rest even when they feel tired while driving.

“Apart from the message we have introduced a some interventions, one is a practical base measure via the introduction of the log books among commercial vehicles operators, indeed we cannot say is been fully implemented, at a time when it was promoted, the law was silent on it,’’ says Kwame Koduah Atuahene, the communications manager of the NRSC.

The new road traffic regulations clearly indicates that drivers are required to take a mandatory rest (30 minutes) after every four and eight hours journey per day.

“Again from the perspective of the law we have influenced the law to use technograph, a device that allows operators to measure speed and the duration of time spent on the road. All these will need some implementation programmes, in fact there are plans to put in place the legislation as I speak,’’ he says.

“The law requires that all commercial transport operators should be registered and licensed to provide transport service, as part of license regime there will be guidelines which clearly will require that certain controls systems should put in place to enable authorities determine that these policies have complied with’’.

“For instance before commercial operators such as Metro Mass Transit (MMT), Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU), among others will be able to have their license renewed it will be interesting to find out what policies they have in place with regard to fatigue driving, availability of log books, or records to show how many hours a diver has done in a day, that records will inform the decision to renew or not renew such permits”.

The NRSC has over the years roll out lots of advocacy programmes to ensure the safety of passengers. The Passengers Speak Out Don’t Get Killed campaign is a current one which calls on passengers to be responsible or empower them to take full control of their safety when they get to a terminal or even before they make a choice on which bus to take.

“In fact often times in the course of our advocacy programmes it has become clear that passengers begin to see signs of road crash before occurrence, for instance a driver tired and dozing off or chewing gum, so in this campaign we have encouraged them to look out for these signs so that they can demand that the driver does what is right. We have also provided telephone numbers for passengers to report such cases if the driver is not able to change his ways’’.

“We have also brought in the drivers into the picture even though it is not part of law but as part of our advocacy programmes, but, the responsibility fully rests on the commercial vehicle operators,’’ Atuahene emphasised.

Statistics from the Research and Training at the Motor Transport and Traffic Directorate of the Ghana Police Service shows about 1,200 people have died from road crashes between January and August 2014, with about 6,000 recorded injuries within the same period
Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel