Reflections on a recent Road traffic accident

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 Source: Adjei-Kyeremeh, Nathanael

Thoughts on a tragedy: reflections on a recent Road traffic accident

I read from www.myjoyonline.com on 16th of November 2013 that four people had died in a fatal accident at Bechem, about 10km drive from where I stay. According to the news story the driver attempted an overtaking and collided with an incoming trailer.

But this story buries the detail of totally avoidable deaths.

A passenger who survived narrates that after passing the Tabere tollbooth (first tollbooth on the Kumasi-Sunyani highway) one passenger asked the driver to allow her buy from the street hawkers. The driver told her bluntly that his breaks were faulty so he couldn't stop.

Interestingly they all sat in the car, in spite of this scary disclosure, and travelled some 50km to Bechem before four passengers decided to get down. These four were chastised by the others, for their decision. A woman passenger (who died) is quoted as saying "we who are even mothers are not this coward to get off the car".

The car crossed the second toll at Bechem, and sped off, so much was the speed that signals that called him to break because of a broken down track ahead couldn't be heeded to. Already he had no functional breaks, and combining the clutch and the gears couldn't help him stop. He then collided head on with cement packed stationary truck in the middle of the road. The truck had broken down some hours earlier. The death toll of four was at the spot, two critically injured referrals we had at our facility passed away.

Lives lost in such a horrible manner…

Now let us consider the key actors in this sordid and tragic drama

The Driver

Those who know him claim he is rowdy, a member of the local GPRTU. It is obvious that he has little respect for life, because why will a driver travel a 60km highway with a fully loaded bus without a functional break on a 'funeral day'-Saturday where a significant number of road users are inebriated. This driver is just one of many driving people around. The way drivers make overtaking on our roads show how brave they are and how they leave death to chance in their escapades. Overtaking when he hardly sees ahead, on curves, and even when his speed hardly matches the leading car. For over speeding the least said the better. The sad part is that his folly cost the lives of him and others. Is there a way the GPRTU can whip their members in line or report them to authorities?

A chat with a 25 year old driver who was involved in a fatal accident near Berekum which killed 12 out of 16 passengers revealed that he dropped out of Junior High school, became a trotro-mate and through that learnt to drive. His license had expired, three days prior to the gory accident he had had a minor crash that the police were still investigating. It will surprise many to note the number of drivers without legal license to drive in Ghana.

The passengers:

If drivers leave their lives to chance, passengers leave theirs to God or Allah. Even when the bold ones are criticizing the drivers for their foolish driving, you have other passengers playing the driver's advocate calling the critics all sorts of names. The option for such critical passengers is to get out or shut up! The case above shows that those who got out saved their lives. The momentary bashing did not kill them; they were saved because of the choice they made. This incident highlights the dangerous silence most Ghanaians approach people who are to serve them. Being critical is being “too known”. In the accident at Berekum aforementioned, a woman survivor whom I talked to said she kept mute because other passengers called her a ‘witch’ when she initially criticized the driver for over speeding.

If passengers whose lives a driver carry cannot influence the driver to drive safely on our roads, then it is not surprising the kinds of senseless deaths happening.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority

The mandate of the Authority as provided in the DVLA Act, Act 569 of 1999 is to promote good driving standards in the country; and ensure the use of roadworthy vehicles on the roads and in other public places. If the role of the DVLA is objectively assessed we will all come to the conclusion that the Authority has a lot of work to do, from many ‘non-roadworthy’ vehicles like the case above, and many unprofessional drivers who have no business having a license to transport human lives.

National Road Safety Commission, Ghana Highway Authority and Road contractors

Any casual drive on our roads reveal the problems, unfilled/poorly filled potholes, few or damaged road signs, illegal rumble strip constructions without any road sign to warn, broken down vehicles and no speed limits. Chinua Achebe in "The trouble with Nigeria" writes, "In America where a driver's licence is not purchased under the counter, where cars are well built and well maintained, where no sudden surprises like unfilled pot-holes, abandoned wrecks, stampeding cows lie in wait for the motorist, there is strictly enforced speed limit of 56miles or 88kmph. Now who has ever heard of a car in [Ghana] (unless it is crippled by two flat tyres) doing 88kmph?" The NRSC seems to be doing a lot of sensitization and education but their efforts are not translating into significant reduction in road deaths. Their recent endeavour is to investigate the root causes of our accidents. You need not do much brainstorming to arrive at these causes, but I wish them Godspeed as they meet and deliberate and tell us what we’ve known all this while.

The Motor Transport and Traffic Unit of the Police service

It is obvious that for that long stretch no police stopped the car, the failed breaking system would have betrayed the driver even if the passengers don't. The police visibility on our roads these days are really remarkable, but we can only hope that it translates into a drop in statistics of these deaths.

To all of us

National Road Safety Commission says 1,539 people lost their lives between January and September 2013, while 9,741 reported injured as a result of road accidents. For the nine months 10,558 cases of road accidents were recorded and that between January 2000 and December 2010, 20,503 people died on the roads in the country while 63,384 were reported injured. That is a lot of Ghanaians we’ve lost, many of them in their most productive years, not to talk about the permanent disability those who survive encounters. Today we are not part of this statistics, but if we sit silent and allow this phenomenon to continue unabated, we risk becoming part of this horrific statistic. We must not be SILENT!

Author: Dr Nathanael Adjei-Kyeremeh, adjeikyeremeh@gmail.com

Columnist: Adjei-Kyeremeh, Nathanael