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The dangers caused by the speed ramps in Ghana, other issues

Road Project A road being constructed

Sun, 2 May 2021 Source: Matthew Adombire

A road is a thoroughfare, route, or way on land between two places that has been paved or improved to allow travel by foot, or other form of conveyance including motor vehicle, cart, bicycle or animal.

Roads play a crucial role in the economic development and growth of any country. Roads provide essential social benefits providing access to social services such as employment (linking workers to jobs), health (linking the sick to hospitals) and education (linking students to schools).

In order for the roads to continue to serve the very purpose for which they are provided, the continuous and adequate maintenance of the road infrastructure is necessary to preserve and enhance the benefits roads provide.

Poor road maintenance causes irreversible deterioration of the roads requiring road replacement or major repairs at higher cost within a few years of the original road construction, thus depriving the citizens a good quality of life and a major financial adverse impact on the whole economy.

Thus responsible institutions such as the Ghana Highways Authority, Ghana Urban Roads, and Ghana Feeder Roads need to recognize this and manage the road assets properly to always be in good condition. By maintaining and preserving current road assets lowers future costs for citizens, road users, taxpayers and road owners.

There is no justification in constructing new roads to the neglect of existing roads with the flimsy excuse that every citizen must share the national cake. Roads therefore require maintenance, renewal and modernization.

The ordinary non-technical Ghanaian cannot be blamed for thinking and believing that in Ghana Road Asset Management programmes or systems are not existent or are only on paper. It is known that road asset management involves engineering, financial and management practices to guarantee an acceptable level of service so that the road asset can return a financial asset for the economy and society as a whole.

The viable use of the road network must ensure safety. Road traffic accidents occur for various reasons, but an important factor is the road surface in preventing crashes. Do the road authorities in Ghana have Road Asset Management policies? Do they coordinate with one another in the execution of their various mandates?

Travelling Distances and Times

To travel from point A to point B, you have to cover the fixed distance between them. If you travel fast, you reach your destination in a short time. However, if you travel more slowly, you take a longer time to get to your destination. Let us note the adage that “Time is Money”.

In other countries, road authorities including local news channels track and report on road conditions to the public so that drivers going through a particular route can be aware of hazards or take alternative routes to avoid delays.

One of the things that make road users, especially those using mechanical equipment such as motorbikes and vehicles travel slowly is the speed ramps (also called speed bumps, traffic thresholds, speed breakers or sleeping policemen) on the road.

Road Safety

The road authorities and some communities in Ghana think that vehicles using the roads kill human beings as a result of speeding. Speed ramps are consequently provided to force drivers to slow down when approaching settled communities or within those communities. As this may be true that speeding vehicles knock moving objects crossing the road such as human beings and animals, it is not the only reason for such accidents.

It is good road design and construction that can reduce negative environmental impacts including killing of humans (pedestrians and those in the vehicle) and animals. It should be noted that the number of people killed or injured in the vehicle at a single accident is more than the pedestrians.

Various types of speed ramps include speed hump, speed cushion, ramble strips and speed table. Speed ramps are made of asphalt, concrete, recycled plastic, metal or vulcanized rubber. Although speed ramps are effective in keeping vehicle speeds down, their use is sometimes controversial.

They can increase traffic noise, may damage vehicles if traversed at too great a speed, and slow emergency vehicles (ambulances, fire tenders, police chasing criminals, etc.). Poorly-designed speed bumps that stand too tall or with too-sharp an angle can be disruptive for drivers, and may be difficult to navigate for vehicles with low ground clearance, even at very low speeds.

Many sports cars have this problem with such speed bumps. Speed ramps can also pose serious hazards to motorcyclists and bicyclists if they are not clearly visible, though in some cases a small cut across the bump allows those vehicles to traverse without impediment. Could speed ramps be offset on sloppy tarred or asphalted roads to allow drainage in the middle of the road rather than the sides causing erosion?

Speed ramps have a number of disadvantages which far outweigh the advantages. Some Local authorities have cited disadvantages to speed bumps which include:

1.Slow response time of emergency services and buses. Imagine an ambulance carrying a patient from Bolgatanga to Tamale Teaching Hospital which requires speed and no disturbance to the patient.

The speed ramps unnecessarily delay the journey and the shocks inflicted on the patient at speed ramps may even kill the patient before she/he gets to Tamale for medical attention. In the 1980s, Mr. A. A. Ampofo’s driver was reported to take 55 minutes from Bolga Regional Administration to Tamale Airport. Now the same journey takes about 2 hours and more. The road then was only tarred not asphalted.

Note that the distance has not increased but the restrictions on the road have. There are also no new settlements along that road except that the populations of the existing communities must have increased.

2.Diversion of traffic to parallel residential streets. It is obvious why drivers will use alternative longer routes which have less or no speed ramps. Some drivers even use the edges of the road where the speed ramp has not been extended to. Comfort and safety of the driver and passengers in addition to the less damage to the vehicle are considerable.

3.Possible increase in traffic noise and pollution for residents living immediately adjacent to the speed bumps especially when large goods vehicles pass by. Road reservations also provide longer distances of the road from residents to reduce the impact of this noise.

4.Can cause damage to some vehicles and goods carried. At speed ramps bolts and nuts are seen. These drop from vehicles because of the impact of the speed ramps on the vehicles. After losing essential nuts, bolts may later drop and cause vehicles to get involved in accidents later even on good portions of the road. Goods carried such as breakables like eggs break when speed ramps are hit.

5.Required signs, street lighting and white lines may be visually intrusive. This has been explained below.

6.Can cause discomfort for drivers and passengers. Explained in 2 above.

May distract drivers from other hazards such as children. The tendency to concentrate in passing over the speed ramp can take the attention of the driver away for other hazards.

7.Can cause discomfort for drivers and passengers. Explained in 2 above.

8.Increase pollution as traffic travels in a lower gear using significantly more fuel per mile (see below).

9.Speed ramps are used as a compromise for more active law enforcement (an admission of poor law enforcement). Due to the inability of law enforcement, speed ramps are provided instead. But why create a bigger problem in an attempt to solve a small problem? Enforcing speed limits on roads is not too difficult.

Give spot fines with a number of offences resulting in the seizure of the driving licence and preventing culprits from driving and drivers will be compelled to conform. Laws are made for the safety of citizens not some citizens. All law breakers, be they politicians, religious ministers, traditional leaders, rich or poor people, must be held accountable. It is not our culture to be undisciplined.

10.Increase noise by creating tire-to-bump thumping and increasing the amount of engine-revving;

11.Cause spinal damage and aggravate chronic backache. My friend is now helping himself with a walking stick because a speed ramp affected his waist when he travelled by road from Bolgatanga to Accra on official duty. Most speed ramps are not marked to advise the driver.

In 2003, the chairman of the London Ambulance Service, Sigurd Reinton claimed that delays caused by speed bumps were responsible for up to 500 avoidable deaths from cardiac arrest each year. Even though he later denied the statement, there is no doubt about the possibility of a driver getting a cardiac arrest after hitting a speed ramp above the allowable speed limit.

In Sweden, an evaluation of spinal stress in bus drivers against ISO 2631-5 required on health grounds that bus drivers avoid certain streets until the humps were modified; and the maximum acceptable speed be reduced to 10 kilometres per hour (6.2 mph; 2.8 m/s) on one street for drivers encountering 150 humps in a day.

Speed bumps are also very bad for the environment. More nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter emissions are produced by petrol cars at speed ramps than at speed cushions. Another study estimated that for a private automobile, the increase in fuel consumption due a pass over a speed bump is responsible for fuel waste of 10ml or more than 15 tons of fuel wasted on a single speed bump every year.

Is Ghana ready for the use of Dynamic speed bumps? Dynamic speed bumps only activate if a vehicle is traveling above a certain speed. Vehicles traveling below this speed will not experience the discomfort of a conventional speed bump. Dynamic speed bumps may allow the passage of emergency vehicles at higher speeds.

The Actibump system, successfully used in Sweden, is based on powered equipment integrated into the road surface, which operates a platform that is lowered a few centimetres when a speeding vehicle approaches. Any vehicle approaching at or under the speed limit will pass on a level road. The system measures the speed of an oncoming vehicle by using radar.

The SmartBumps system, successfully used in several places uses a mechanical speed bump built in the road, that raises only for the speeding vehicles. The slow drivers, driving within the speed limit will practically not notice the speed bump. The system measures the speed of the vehicles using sensors on the road.

In another design, a rubber housing is fitted with a pressure relief valve that determines the speed of a vehicle. If the vehicle is traveling below the set speed, the valve opens allowing the bump to deflate as the vehicle drives over it, but it remains closed if the vehicle is traveling too fast. The valve can also be set to allow heavy vehicles, such as fire trucks, ambulances, and buses to cross at higher speeds.

The use of intelligent speed bumps is not only beneficial for the drivers, but also reduces the bad side-effects of the traditional speed bumps, like excessive pollution and fuel waste. But can Ghana afford them now?



The design and construction of roads must meet the purposes for which roads are provided as stated above. I am not going into the details of road design as I am not competent enough to do so. However, I have a few suggestions that I want to propose to road designers to consider.

Axle Load

One consideration of road design is the effect of the axle load on the road. I understand axle load to be the total weight of the vehicle divided by the number of axles of the vehicle. Roads that are not designed to carry certain weights of axle loads get quickly destroyed when they are subjected to such high loads.

The tarred Sumbrungo-Zokko Road was damaged within six months when heavily loaded trucks bound for Burkina Faso used it, presumably because it was not designed for such loads. Most of the present speed ramps in Ghana cause the road at the speed ramps to be destroyed, thus the frequent deterioration of speed ramps, especially those poorly supervised and constructed.

Take an articulated truck which has one axle at the front, two at the middle and three or four at the rear as an example. In going over a speed ramp, the first axle goes on it with all the remaining wheels on the road. However, when the first of the rear axles climbs the speed ramp, the remaining ones are hanging, thus the axle load is exceeded as fewer axles now carry the total load on the road, thus exceeding the designed axle load.

Do not argue that a factor of safety has been catered for since the deterioration of speed ramps is clearly demonstrable. The speed ramp, if it must be provided, should begin and end with such a curvature that at any point of the climb by a vehicle, all the tyres must touch the road surface.

Moreover, the poor supervision of ramp construction has resulted in the speed ramps being constructed very frequently such as those at Wulugu in the NorthEast Region.

Two-Lane Roads

For this type of road, vehicles ply in opposite directions with the high possibility of head-on collisions. This normally happens when vehicles are overtaking others without having a clear view ahead and may not be able to assess the speeds of on-coming vehicles.

These points are normally at vertical and horizontal curves. We know that Ghana does not have sufficient financial wherewithal to provide dual carriages (see how long it has taken Ghana to construct such a road from Accra to Kumasi and has still not gone far).

One solution is to physically separate (a medium barrier such as short walls) these two-lane roads at all curves thus forcing drivers not to overtake at such curves. This will considerably reduce accidents at curves and will not cost much (at least not up to providing a dual carriageway).

Roadside Design

In communities close to the road or through which roads pass, speed ramps are provided to slow down drivers to avoid or reduce objects crossing or by the roadside being hit. In some study, off-the-road accidents were the most prevalent type and that between 30 and 35 percent of highway fatalities occur in off-the-road accidents, year after year.

Many public highway roadsides show that they offer few safeguards in the event of vehicle or human malfunction. The road authorities allow built-up of physical structures close to the roadside (against their own design criteria which requires reservation spaces according to the type of road) thus obstructing drivers’ view at curves and spring up crossings of road by pedestrians (especially children) and animals.

If a person wants to cross the road starting from the outer part of the reservation the person would have ample time to observe the status of the road to avoid being hit by an oncoming vehicle. Guardrails must be considered as a part of roadside design.

Why are all such roads not provided with guardrails but rather speed ramps are resorted to? We can neglect the existing roads that we have allowed encroachment of the road reservation, but why can’t we stop upcoming encroachment? Towns like Somanya and Cape Coast are such exceptions not to bother about creating road reservations for the town centre roads which were built during colonial days.

Some culverts are designed and constructed without guardrails. There was such a culvert between Kisseiman and Dome Pillar 2 in Accra. I went to the Headquarters of the Department of Urban Roads (DUR) and reported to one of the engineers and he directed me to the regional office of the DUR but I refused to go to their regional office, because I expected him to contact his colleagues.

After two or so years when the edges of the culvert were washed away, they were reconstructed with concrete and a concrete rail provided. Ineptitude!

Road Drainage

When vehicles are travelling, the tyres must have a firm grip on the road surface so as to create the necessary friction to prevent the vehicle from skidding off. When water, oil and other liquids lie on the surface of the road, they have the tendency to reduce the frictional grip of the tyres on the road and may cause the vehicle to skid off.

Road design should ensure that no pools of water lie on the road after rains. In the cities such as Accra, there are such depressions on the road where water collects after the rains.

This may be tolerable since speeds are low. However, on the Accra-Kumasi Highway at Adoagyri, such a depression is very dangerous and I was only lucky not to have skidded off, but my heartbeat jumped when I drove into the pool which was not recognizable at a safe distance.

Delays at Toll Booths

On roads that have heavy traffic such as Accra-Nsawam and Accra-Kasoa where toll booths are installed, considerable delays are experienced by drivers. This is because the booths provided are inadequate for certain periods of the day when traffic is heavy.

A simple solution is to offset the toll booths. For the present eight (8) booths at Weija, maintain six (6) booths in one direction leaving the two lanes at the booth for the opposite direction who pass to the next point where similar six (6) booths are also provided for them. This will certainly reduce delays.

I am not sure the staff of these road authorities also use the roads they have designed and supervised their construction. At toll booths where drivers pay money, it is unthinkable that the road authorities will punish drivers as those places are so uncomfortable and damaging to their vehicles. No explanation for the state of the road at toll booths is acceptable. You know the traffic loads at those places so why not design and construct appropriately?

There is also loss of revenue at toll booths and proper supervision should be carried out. The drivers should also be educated to check the receipts given to them and not to throw the receipts away after collecting the same. The dropped receipts can be reused and such proceeds are not passed on to the lawful authority.

Other drivers also pay the toll but refuse to collect the receipt. Automatically, such monies go to the toll booth operator and not the government. Such drivers forget that they are depriving the government of the needed revenue and are neglecting their civic responsibility. I was personally given a previous day’s receipt.

I had to drive back and complain before a fresh one was served to me. I made it known to a lady at the Ghana Highways Authority who was in charge at the time. I cannot guarantee whatever the toll booth operator did after that. Why should my time be wasted and how many drivers will notice or care?

There is even a school of thought that toll booths should be abolished and the expected recovery amount added to the cost of fuel or license renewal. In such a case, revenue collection is easier and pilfering highly reduced.

After heavy rains, the soil on the hill is washed down onto the road near the Weija Toll booth and the road gets flooded and delays traffic. I suggest a silt trap is constructed at the toe of the hill to be cleaned as necessary.

This will allow only water to run fast through the drain into the lake rather than being on the road preventing vehicular movement. If studies show that the water is too much for the drain, then a suitable drain should be designed and constructed.

Road Users and the General Pulbic

For any equipment or facility, user manuals are provided to instruct and guide the user how to use the facility for its optimum purpose and maximum benefit and for the facility to serve its useful life. Roads are no exception. There are road signs and road markings to give instruction and information to road users.

The markings should include speed ramps. Education of the meanings of those signs and markings and their rightful application must be explained to all users of the road (drivers and pedestrians). I doubt if such education is being adequately given to Ghanaians where the illiteracy rate is low and the level of indiscipline is high.

Where some of these signs are provided, the signs are destroyed, stolen, covered by posters and/or disfigured or defaced, thus not being available to serve their purpose. Sometimes, the distance between the red speed ramp sign and the blue one are too close such that one wonders whether the braking distance of vehicles are taken into account.

Enforcement and incentives can be the solution to these problems. Can there be an incentive for informants of those who vandalise road signs and markings? If road signs are destroyed, stolen, covered by posters and/or disfigured or defaced, why cannot the community be held responsible for the replacement of those signs?

If the community is held responsible, they will ensure the signs are in good condition at all times. The lame argument that the country is democratic and only the identified culprit should be held liable should not apply. Why are all students charged for the destruction of school property when students riot?

Do all the students cause the destruction? All communities have leadership and they must be involved in the development of the country.

Road markings are not the responsibility of the public, but they serve a very useful purpose for the road user especially at night when the road surface is very dark in some areas (especially those roads without street lights).

However, when these marks deface, the road authorities do not redo them. There should be no excuse for lack of funds because the value of lost lives and properties from resulting accidents is much greater. Major roads must be the first consideration for renewal of road markings.

Road sidewalks and walkways appear not to serve the purpose for which they are provided. Our road sidewalks in the cities and towns are used as trading grounds. Portions of the road are even used for displaying goods on sale (such as at Anyinam). Our walkways are also not used even though they have been provided at great expense (example of the Madina walkway).

Yet people rather cross the road only to be knocked down by vehicles and the people turn around and blame the driver. Sometimes such drivers are unfortunately punished for such accidents. How unfair? Communities must be separated from the road and specific spaces left for crossing.

Guardrails should be installed so that people do not cross the road at any place of their choice and portions designated for road crossing must be clearly marked for compliance.

Conclusion

I recommend that all speed ramps on highways should be removed and no new ones constructed. Existing speed ramps within city centres can remain and when they deteriorate should not be replaced but the road repaired for smooth travel. Arterial roads in cities can have speed ramps.

However, in all cases speed ramps must be redesigned and constructed to ensure that at all times, all axles of vehicles are touching the road surface. There must be a smooth climb onto the speed ramp.

Two-lane roads must be physically separated at both vertical and horizontal curves to prevent overtaking at such curves to prevent or reduce head-on collisions.

Road reservations must be provided and not encroached upon. Apart from their prevention of road accidents, the cost of future expansion or enlargement of roads will not require the extra cost of compensation to encroachers.

No road surface should be designed and constructed to retain pools of water. All water falling on the road must runoff into drains or the roadside where there are no constructed drains.

Toll booths should be abolished and the expected revenue incorporated either into fuel cost or renewal of driving license. It is easy to work this out. However, if toll booths must be constructed, then they must be offset at roads with heavy traffic.

The drivers and general public must be educated to know how to safely use the road for the purpose it is intended. The facilities such as road signs, road markings, guardrails, sidewalks and walkways ensuring the safest and efficient use of the road must be provided and visible at all times to the road user and compliance enforced and road use discipline will be restored in Ghanaians (drivers and pedestrians).

Columnist: Matthew Adombire
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