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Road Accidents: A simple solution to the problem

Accident.png?resize=1000%2C600&ssl=1 Road accident has been a pain in the necks of Ghanaians

Wed, 23 Mar 2022 Source: Emmanuel Felix Mantey

Road accident has been a pain in our neck in Ghana. Recently, the president described it as a global pandemic requiring broader efforts to end the menace. On record, road crashes are the first highest mortality rate in the country claiming several thousands of deaths annually.

Globalizing the problem as the President did in his statement to the public raises the level of urgency with which to act in addressing the problem however, it is important to note that, deliberate national policies and programmes are what will enable us to bring the problem to the barest minimum if not end it.

Since the president sort to globalize the phenomenon, it is right to provide the global statics on the phenomenon in this article and proceed to suggest strategist that will help resolve the problem in our country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Out of this, the United Nations General Assembly has set a target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2030 according to the UN Resolution (A/RES/74/299).

Economically, road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product. Unfortunately, the WHO reports that more than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users. These are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

It is also estimated that about 93% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world's vehicles and road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

The above data informs us that urgent action is needed in our country to deal with the problem because, when the data is disaggregated, the revelations in Ghana are not encouraging which is a threat to national security and public safety.

The Risk Factors

It is not as if we are oblivious of the risk factors of road crashes in the country. In fact, there have been several workshops, symposia, and a lot of literature explaining the risk factors to the problem. Actually, these risk factors are not hidden from us and they are very visible everywhere you go.

The problem has been our inability to have the courage to implement mechanisms and programmes to tackle those risk factors. Below are some of these major risk factors requiring action to address the problem.

Speeding: It is evidenced that an increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash. For instance, every 1% increase in mean speed produces a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk. Again, the death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly (4.5 times from 50 km/h to 65 km/h).

More revealing, in car-to-car side impacts the fatality risk for car occupants is also 85% at 65 km/h. This kind of risk factor can be eliminated by the introduction of speed limitation devices and speed control measures in vehicles so that, no person is allowed to drive beyond a certain limit of speed.

Driving under the influence of alcohol and other psychoactive substances: Another risk factor is, driving under the influence of alcohol and any psychoactive substance or drugs. This increases the risk of a crash that results in death or serious injuries.

It is evident that in the case of drink-driving, the risk of a road traffic crash starts at low levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and increases significantly when the driver's BAC is ≥ 0.04 g/dl. Again, in the case of drunk driving, the risk of incurring a road traffic crash is increased to differing degrees depending on the psychoactive drug used. For example, the risk of a fatal crash occurring among those who have used amphetamines is about 5 times the risk of someone who hasn't according to the WHO.

Distracted driving:

There are many types of distractions that can lead to impaired driving. The distraction caused by mobile phones is a growing concern for road safety. It has been estimated that drivers using mobile phones are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using a mobile phone.

Using a phone while driving slows reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also a reaction to traffic signals), and makes it difficult to keep in the correct lane, and to keep the correct following distances. Note that hands-free phones are equally not much safer than hand-held phone sets, and texting considerably increases the risk of a crash.

Unsafe road infrastructure:

The most worrying risk factor is unsafe roads. The design of roads has a considerable impact on their safety. Ideally, roads should be designed keeping in mind the safety of all road users.

This would mean making sure that there are adequate facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Other measures such as footpaths, cycling lanes, safe crossing points, and other traffic calming measures are very much critical to reducing the risk of injury among these road users. It is observed that most of the roads in the country are designed poorly and are unsafe for road users. We require standardized roads that are designed with the safety of users in mind.

Unsafe vehicles:

Having safe vehicles, plays a critical role in averting crashes and reducing the likelihood of serious injury. The UN has a plethora of regulations on vehicle safety that, if applied in the country, would potentially save many lives.

These include requiring vehicle manufacturers to meet the front and side-impact regulations, including electronic stability control (to prevent over-steering), and to ensure airbags and seatbelts are fitted in all vehicles. Without these basic standards the risk of traffic injuries – both to those in the vehicle and those out of it – is considerably increased.

Therefore, it is a worry when the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority ignore all these standards and go-ahead to issue roadworthy certificates to many of the vehicles on our roads. Recently, the DVLA revealed that about 90% of vehicles on our roads are indeed not worthy. That calls for action to remove them off the roads to make the system safer for all.

Inadequate post-crash care:

Unfortunately, anytime there is a road crash, it is mostly not detected early. Delays in detecting and providing care for those involved in a road traffic crash increase the severity of injuries. Care of injuries after a crash has occurred is extremely time-sensitive: delays of minutes can make the difference between life and death.

We need to improve post-crash care to ensure access to timely pre-hospital care and improve the quality of both hospital and hospital care, such as through special training programmes. This is more reason why the National Ambulance Service is a time-tested system to help in this regard as well as other institutions such as the police response, fire response, and other road safety responses.

Inadequate law enforcement of traffic laws: Road traffic laws are very important to address the problem of road crashes. If traffic laws on drink-driving, seat-belt wearing, speed limits, helmets, and child restraints are not enforced, they cannot bring about the expected reduction in road traffic fatalities and injuries related to specific behaviours. Even though these laws exist, enforcement has been a major concern by the institutions mandated to ensure compliance.

Thus, if traffic laws are not enforced or are perceived as not being enforced it is likely they will not be complied with and therefore will have very little chance of influencing behaviour. It is important to note that effective enforcement includes establishing, regularly updating, and enforcing laws at the national, municipal, and local levels that address the above-mentioned risk factors. It includes also the definition of appropriate penalties and applying them.

Nonuse of motorcycle helmets, seatbelts, and child restraints: Using the correct helmet can lead to a 42% reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69% reduction in the risk of head injuries. Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death among drivers and front-seat occupants by 45 - 50%, and the risk of death and serious injuries among rear seat occupants by 25%. The use of child restraints can lead to a 60% reduction in deaths.

Remedy

In finding a remedy to the problem confronting us as a nation, we need to adopt the Safe System approach to road safety. This approach aims to ensure a safe transport system for all road users. It is an approach recognized by the WHO. It takes into account people’s vulnerability to serious injuries in road traffic crashes and also, the system is designed to be forgiving of human errors.

The main focus of this approach is Safe Roads and Roadsides, Safe Speeds, Safe Vehicles, and Safe Road Users. Until our efforts are directed at addressing all of these the nation will not be able to eliminate fatal crashes and reduce serious injuries.

In conclusion, institutions such as the Ministry of Roads and Transport, the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), National Ambulance Services (NAS), Driver Unions and other ancillary institutions have to work in collaboration to ensure measures are taken to eliminate these risk factors listed above to address the phenomenon of road accidents and it associated fatalities.

These institutions have to set targets and timelines as to how they want to work to reduce road accidents in the country to reduce the socio-economic impacts of the phenomenon.

Columnist: Emmanuel Felix Mantey
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