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Opinions Sun, 23 May 2010

The Madness on Ghana’s Roads Must Cease!

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

May 21, 2010

Despite the persistent outcry against the high rate of accidents on our roads, the spate continues. It hasn’t abated nor will it do so on its own. Since time out-of-mind, accidents on our roads (and rivers too) have destroyed lives and property and inflicted irreparable harm.

Indeed, many families still bear the scar of such traffic accidents. Whether caused by mechanical faults, the bad nature of the roads, and human error or plain mischief (through drunken or careless driving, and lapses on the part of the law enforcement agents), these accidents have over the years made Ghana one of the countries with high annual road accident rates. This problem has always been condemned but little appears to be done to solve it satisfactorily. It’s always been a matter of declaration of grandiose intentions or ad hoc measures that fizzle out as soon as one or two unfortunate offenders are caught and paraded in public. The problem persists.

Within this context, Ghanaians have apprehensions and are wont to take any official pronouncement with a justifiable pinch of salt. Here is one. The National Road Safety Commission is aiming at reducing accident fatality rate to a single digit by 2015 from its present rate of 19 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles, according to Mr. Noble John Appiah, the Executive Director of the Commission.

Speaking at a meeting with stakeholders in Bolgatanga, Mr. Appiah said road accidents cost the country about 1.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, over 230 million dollars every year beside the loss of lives. He said a National Road Safety Action Plan had been drawn and would be given to some major stakeholders such as the Ghana Private Road Transport Union and others for implementation and that his office would monitor and supervise the activities of the groups.

Mr. Appiah said the Commission had taken measures that would be implemented at Regional and District levels to ensure safety on the road. He said six towing trucks had been licensed to take care of broken down vehicles to minimize crashes. Mr. Appiah said at the regional and district levels, education on measures that would reduce fatalities on the roads had been programmed to create awareness in schools, churches, mosques, and communities.

Laudable declarations. Oh, how I wish that Mr. Appiah’s pronouncements would be taken up and implemented outright to relieve us of the scourge of road accidents!! But, alas, knowing very well that the authorities in Ghana take more delight in making attention-grabbing public declarations of sugar-coated intentions than ensuring their fulfillment, I hesitate to commend him.

The truth is that most of such declarations are geared toward raking in political capital, not solving the problems about which they are made. In Ghana, the culture of office holding is irritatingly peculiar. Those in authority pride themselves more on what they say than what they do to promote national growth and development. Take my word for it.

The problem of perennial road accidents has to be solved through drastic measures, not mere public pronouncements on grandiose intentions. We need strong institutions to help us solve the problem, and the government must direct attention at this aspect of Ghana’s problems. Meantime, I want to add my voice to the measures that Mr. Appiah has announced by offering some suggestions:

1. Stringent efforts to re-organize and retool all institutions entrusted with traffic management (vehicle acquisition and use, conduct on the roads, etc.) for them to perform their statutory functions effectively/efficiently;

2. Systematization of recruitment and training of personnel in those institutions to ensure high performance;

3. Legislation: Appropriate laws and bye-laws should be enacted and strictly enforced to instill discipline in road users—e.g., legal age for driving rights; eyesight; proper testing of prospective drivers before issuance of driver’s licence; Driving Under the Influence (DUI) should be enforced and culprits heavily punished (denial of driving rights, fine, imprisonment, especially in cases where death occurs);

4. Police MTTU is inefficient and must be re-organized and decentralized so that its personnel would be more efficient in performing functions in collaboration with the various stake holders;

5. Highway patrol teams to be equipped and given adequate training in monitoring vehicular movement, not the current on-the-spur-of-the-moment snap checks that they conduct only to extort money from errant road users;

6. Traffic Courts must be established in all the major towns and cities of the country to deal expeditiously with traffic offences;

7. Annual renewal of vehicle registration—stickers to be introduced and renewed annually. Apart from generating additional income, this effort should give us the chance to regularize ownership and use of vehicles. It is a common practice in the United States, where violators are punished.

8. Vehicles not road worthy should be kept off the roads and turned into scrap;

9. Vehicle insurance policies should be streamlined and enforced;

10. Attitudinal changes—those entrusted with enforcing the law and those using the roads must change for the better or be punished;

11. All roads to be clearly marked in different colors—e.g., two-lane roads should be properly designated with yellow line marking off movement in either direction. On a four-lane road, those for double movement in the same portion should be set off with white color. Road users will know that the yellow marking should not be crossed since it will mean that the user will be on the wrong side of the road.

12. Traffic law enforcement personnel who take bribes should be punished—dismissal from service and prosecution;

13. Cameras to be installed at important places on the road for 24-hour surveillance. Also, in the cities, traffic lights should be provided. Why should the government spend millions of dollars (not to say Cedis) on celebrating anniversaries instead of providing facilities that will enhance living conditions for the people?

14. Introduction of the meter system for parking of vehicles in towns and cities—as an additional source of revenue and discipline. When road use yields funds, they should be used to improve traffic conditions.

15. The current Road Fund appears to be serving different purposes and must be streamlined and used to maintain standards on the roads.

As is usual with any innovation that ensures a sudden paradigm shift, there will be protests from commercial vehicle owners and all others whose interests will be temporarily affected (adversely) by the new measures. Some may agitate for demonstrations in protest against the new measures; others may instigate other forms of negative behaviour. But the authorities must not relent. They must stick to their guns and ensure that the measures are institutionalized and enforced to the letter and spirit. Anybody who does anything to undermine the measures should be quickly apprehended and dealt with. The government must have the guts to implement these measures (and others it may find useful) so that we don’t continue to lose limb and property because of the perpetual recklessness on our roads.

All stakeholders must be involved in tackling this perennial problem of recklessness on our roads. These stakeholders include the Ministries of Transportation, Communication, Finance and Economic Planning, and Information; the GPRTU and other recognized organization representing the interests of commercial vehicle operators; drivers; the Police; political authorities at the regional, metropolitan, municipal, and district Assemblies; Chiefs; and the general public.

They must approach this issue dispassionately so that no one wears his power on his sleeves to do or say anything that will touch raw nerves. In the same sense, no beneficiary of the current haphazard system should attempt flexing any muscle to hamper the agenda of instilling discipline on our roads. Concerted efforts must be made to solve the problem.

For far too long, we have been tormented by this scourge of road accidents. All through the years, the authorities have resorted to cosmetic measures just for political expediency while nothing is done to clean the system. For how long must we continue to look on while precious lives and property get lost through traffic accidents?

The periodic ritual of announcing grandiose intentions to solve the problem must give way to a systematized approach toward changing the situation for the better. This problem is not beyond solution. It needs a strong political will, moral courage, and insightfulness to tackle. Measures to relieve us of the torture must be implemented. The authorities must act conscientiously to solve the problem before it worsens. They shouldn’t wait for the electioneering campaign period to indulge in the ritual of bombarding our ears with vain promises. Is anybody listening?
Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.