Opinions Thu, 6 Dec 2018

Road fatalities: my view on the recent happenings

It is rather unfortunate and sad to have our able-bodied and future leaders perishing on our roads on daily basis something that is avoidable and needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms. We’ve watched and seen gruesome deaths on our roads something that is gradually wiping us out and has caused, sorrow, pain, misery, endless agony in families and has greatly affected our noble country Ghana’s human capital and GDP.

Road deaths are the highest more than HIV and other related deaths in the world. It will interest us to know that people that have been maimed by road accidents are even more than those that have lost their lives; they’re living but have become a burden to themselves, family and their community, a sad situation for such able-bodied people, bread earners of their family has now become incapacitated. None of us is safe from this looming danger on our roads.

One may therefore ask what has accounted for all these unfortunate deaths, human pain and deformation.

Its simple indiscipline by drivers and pedestrians, lack of state priority in tackling projects, low political will and unnecessary political equalisation, lack of project continuity, poor road engineering, delays in accident response, poor maintenance culture, disjointed inter road sectoral collaboration, inadequate funding, and enforcement.

I would like to elaborate on few of the above raised points:

Indiscipline on the part of drivers and pedestrians

First, is indiscipline on the part of drivers and pedestrians; Sad to say but factually, majority of our deaths and misery on the road result from this; people should know the first safety rule is to think and act safety personally.

How do we drive in this country- over-speeding and total disregard for other road users, lack of patience for pedestrians, text driving, wrong overtaking, total disregard for road signs and traffic regulations, display of impunity, drunk driving and substance abuse.

Other bad driving practices are lack of proper maintenance on our vehicles, use of wrong tyres, overage vehicles and lack of being responsible for our lives.

Other areas worth looking at are pedestrians visibly ignoring footbridges and crossing roads dangerously, jail walk, crossing roads at unapproved places, crossing roads sometimes with ear phones on, making a call, picking a call or listening to a call and ignoring danger of incoming car at the peril of their lives among others.

Second, is our road engineering: since independence our population keeps increasing both human and vehicular yet our roads have not been improved to meet world standards or meet our national demands; we have become a reactive society without proper planning to mitigate future demands, for example why should we have a motorway since independence and is still not improved and is full of death trap potholes, no provision for settlers around the motorway, no lights etc? We sometimes finish constructing roads before we think of human safety after lives have been lost and many maimed and in most cases this is even considered when public pressure is mounted, we have long stretch of roads that are single lane instead of it being a dual carriageway.

Most of our road networks are not lighted, so people drive in darkness, there are not rest stops for long distance drivers so they drive tired, sleepy and stressed, hence end up having accidents.

Sometimes road contractors ignore safety by leaving sand, packed vehicles, open trenches and other materials without caution thereby resulting in accidents like a case of Ebony’s death- May Her Soul Rest in Peace.

Political insensitivity

Thirdly, seeming political insensitivity to the plight of the citizenry; many a time happenings and responses to accident related issues and road engineering or equipping of road agencies by subsequent governments leave one to wonder whether government really considers this sector as a priority to national development, though there has been some interventions in this regard it sometimes comes very late when much damage had been done.

One thing that really saddens my heart is the continuous political equalisation instead of tackling this accident menace as a state or nation we tend to politicise it and look for avenue to attack each other politically and pass on blame. Over the years the problem of lack of continuation of projects funded by state money by successive governments has resulted in most of our pain and needless deaths.

Health and safety point of view

From a health and safety point of view, what could be done to stem the gradually rising morbidity and mortality associated with Road Transport Accidents (RTA) in Ghana? Various measures have been recognised and tested which granted not specifically directed at the factors contributing to the Ghana situation listed above, but clearly will impact positively and help stem this health and safety problem.

Driver behaviour and education can be highly influenced by targeted health promotion campaigns. Seat belts, alcohol and drug regulation and monitoring are definite known preventive interventions. Pedestrian education and protection, especially for the LAMIC sphere like Ghana, should be given due attention.

Attention to development and maintenance of strategically placed emergency response and trauma centres for timely attendance to RTA victims to reduce morbidity and mortality is important. Additionally appro- priate capacity building in the areas of road and transportation enforcement and regulatory bodies/personnel, legislation and data collection and management among others, count greatly towards containing this important health and safety problem.

One other thing that saddens my heart in all of this also is we lack community mobilisation spirit in carrying out projects as a community to save our life instead we want government to do everything for us, in as much I share in that it is also imperative that citizens and organisations now rises up to contribute to safety and sponsor certain road projects like footbridges, speed ramps, zebra crossing, lollipop stands, education of the community on road safety etc and not only wait for things to get out of hands before react.

Additionally, our response to accident and accident victims in our country leaves much to be desired. It’s so sad that life that could have been saved through road accident is lost because there was a delay in responding to the victim. People will have pleasure in filming an accident to share on social media than calling for help or making an attempt to send the victim to hospital for treatment. Sometimes we also have the unfortunate situation of other road users obstructing the smooth movement of an ambulance responding to an emergency. Elsewhere as part of ones education you’re taught safety and how to administer first aid or help an accident victim but sad to say most of us lack the basic knowledge in handling accident victims or application of first aid and sometimes in our attempt to help an accident victim we end up killing the person or worsening his or her injury because of how we handle them.

Logistically we lack modern, well equipped state of the art ambulances to help save situations during accidents not to talk of inadequate ambulances and personnel. Our hospitals and how accidents victims are treated is also something that should concern us as a state.

Finally I would like to comment about the enforcement and education in respect to Road safety, it is worrying to realise that certain vehicles have been licensed and have road worthy certificate yet that vehicle by all intent and purposes should not have been on the road, majority of people have licenses and drive on our roads but are visually impaired, emotionally and psychologically unstable, have not gone through proper test, does not understand road signs and other traffic regulations but are operating within our road space.

Political and personality interferences has also accounted for enforcement challenges not to talk of nepotism, open taking of bribe from drivers by some corrupt law enforces.

Road safety education

Road safety education has also not been intense, well engaging and deliberate enough due to human, logistical and financial challenges.

RTA related fatalities and injuries continue to be an important morbidity and mortality problem, as well as a health finance problem in Ghana requiring urgent attention and containment as has been done in some countries with developed economies. The problem of RTAs’ in Ghana though must not be seen and managed through the lens of ‘RTAs’ being just a safety issue”, and hence being tackled as such; as has been reflected in the public domain in the past. What this article particularly stresses and brings to the Ghana RTA discussion, is that the problem of RTA containment should primarily focus on prevention by utilising a multifaceted public health approach.

This approach draws on all the relevant public health disciplines of epidemiology, statistics, environmental sciences, behavioural sciences, safety and injury prevention, health services administration and others, as well as the incorporation of emergency and advanced trauma support services, to guide and formulate policies towards containing the scourge of the RTA problem currently confronting the country. Of note in ending this piece is that the problem of RTAs in Ghana is not typical of Ghana only, but a problem in the sub-region and Sub-Saharan Africa in general.

Hence the public health implications and solutions discussed above apply as much to Ghana, as well as other countries in the Sub-Saharan region. The urgency for containment of the RTA situation in Ghana (and the Sub-Saharan region) is especially important now; more so as the United Nations considers the problem of RTA containment a global public health priority, and has declared the decade 2011 to 2020 as the “decade of action for road safety”

In conclusion I would like to recommend the following: we should wake up as a nation to deliberately and tactically tackle our road sector in terms of effective road engineering, strong enforcement to bring sanity and discipline on our road, engage in purposeful, deliberate Road safety education, citizens and community stakeholders championing the cause of safety and contributing towards safety measures or projects, the media willingly donating space or airtime consistently for Road safety education than rather waiting for an accident to occur before they devote much time and attention to it by running minute by minute commentary it will greatly help if the media can channel the same energy into a minute by minute reminder of road users to be responsible.

Government and politicians alike seeing the issue of safety beyond political differences but rather a state or national concern will go a long way to help in saving life on our road. We should also translate the talks into action and learn to react to issues promptly than wait until there is possible pandemonium. MTTD and national Road safety should be well resourced to be able to carry out their mandate, for example Road safety should be extended to all the districts and not only the regions, increase their staff strength empower them to undertake institutional enforcement of their stakeholders like MTTD, DVLA, Roads and highways etc.

Columnist: Rev. Ismaila Awudu