It’s a beautiful Tuesday morning and I had a wonderful sleep waking up at the right side of my soft bed. I woke up feeling hale and hearty and I said to myself, ‘Lord I hope this day is good,’ remembering that great country track by Don Williams, The Gentle Giant of Country Music. Talking about music, I love music so much so that I always sleep with music. I sleep with my radio on and when I hear a song I know I wake up sing along and go back to sleep. Strange! You can say that again.
After swimming in my bed for some time, I decided to finally tune my radio to one of the sister radio stations in Accra. The morning sports was on and after that, it was time for the business news at 7. Do you have a clue of that station? Well, let me go on. After the business news, there were some commercials and the morning show anchor man started playing music. Just when I was dipping myself in the music to ‘soak’ it, the anchor man came in with the back announcement of the business news and acknowledgement of the sponsors.
After all that, Bernard Avle, who is the host and anchor man of the show started with his concerns. I tell you, this guy is so so critical and analytical. I don’t like missing that thought-provoking show with him even though I work for another radio station. Ssssshhhhhhh, don’t tell anybody. Bernard started talking passionately about road accidents and the indiscipline nature of the drivers and Ghanaians in general.
This morning in the news, there was a report of a fatal accident which has claimed more than fifteen (15) lives. In less than 7 days, 2 fatal accidents have been reported in the news. Just some few days ago, we heard of an accident on the Kumasi road which claimed more than 24 lives. There have been several horrifying news in the media in recent times and one can only ask, WHY? What is happening? It is this which has pushed me to write about accidents this morning.
Let us first ask ourselves what an accident is.
According Wikipedia, an accident or mishap is a specific, unpredictable, unusual and unintended external action which occurs in a particular time and place, with no apparent and deliberate cause but with marked effects. It implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its occurrence. Dictionary.reference.com refers to an accident as an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents.
Experts in the field of injury prevention avoid use of the term 'accident' to describe events that cause injury in an attempt to highlight the predictable and preventable nature of most injuries. Such incidents are viewed from the perspective of epidemiology - predictable and preventable. Preferred words are more descriptive of the event itself, rather than of its unintended nature (e.g., collision, drowning, fall, etc.)
Accidents of particularly common types (crashing of automobiles, events causing fire, etc.) are investigated to identify how to avoid them in the future. This is sometimes called root cause analysis, but does not generally apply to accidents that cannot be deterministically predicted. A root cause of an uncommon and purely random accident may never be identified, and thus future similar accidents remain "accidental."
On the 13th of January ghanaweb carried a heart-twisting headline news, titled ‘30 People Died in Road Accidents in Less Than a Month’. It was short but a classic headline arresting news, which pulled my attention on my daily browsing of the site. The piece did not reveal much other than the general statistics of road fatalities. Besides, it is a recurring headline that every now and then steals our attention and causes our bleeding hearts to drip more blood for the departed souls, the maimed and their love ones. At a first glance you might think that people are born and people die and it’s all part of life. But on a second thought the realisation hits home that the victims have got love ones and not only that but dependants, maybe, in their formative years. It’s one thing to live in Ghana with both parents and another living with a single parent and worse without any. What actually prompted me to put these words together was the sort of comments it attracted from the various readers.
Of recent, Ghana has been experiencing an increasing spate of road traffic accidents. These accidents have claimed several lives, both children and adults, maimed numerous victims and have severe effects on the welfare of families. It is against this background that I want to do this.
Road transport caters for 96 per cent of national freight tonnage and 97 per cent of passenger traffic. In 2001, the country was rated the second highest road traffic accident-prone among six West African countries with 73 deaths per 10,000 accidents. From January to March this year, Accra alone recorded 1,417 motor accidents involving 2,125 vehicles.
According to the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the police during this period, there were 78 fatalities, 373 serious injury cases and 966 minor cases in which vehicles ran into other vehicles.
For those who doubt the statistics, the reality is that Ghanaians are now seeing the havoc that road indiscipline has been causing more than they ever thought, as distorted vehicles and bodies continue to be dangled before them in the media.
The Director-General of the Ghana Health Services, Professor could not have put it more concisely when he declared that the most "deadly disease", at the moment is motor accidents. It even kills more than HIV/AIDS
President, John Kufuor during his leadership, encountered at least three very serious accidents involving his convoys with about six security personnel dying as a result. Two Members of Parliament belonging to Kufuor's party died owing to accidents and the Vice-President's convoy was also involved in an accident in which a teenager died.
But like many issues, it has taken these high profile cases to highlight the indiscipline on the Ghanaian roads. The number of vehicles on the roads has greatly increased in recent years owing largely to the government's liberalised policy of ensuring the availability of vehicles. Unfortunately, road maintenance, driver education, vehicle upkeep and traffic enforcement have not grown accordingly. The result - the roads have become deathtraps.
In most places, drivers seemingly fail to adhere to road signs. Even where they are apprehended for road offences, some are able to bribe their way by seeking the assistance of corrupt police motor traffic officers who by and large, have been partly to blame for the growth in road accidents.
The driving standard of many drivers has also been recognised to be very poor, leading to a severe impact on the traffic accident problem. A general low educational level of the driver population in combination with low economy and lack of widespread formalised driver education have been contributing factors to the problem. The newly established DVLA (Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority) has put the problem into focus and is seeking assistance to improve conditions.
It is, however, common knowledge that some people even get their licenses through dubious means, a situation that has led to wrong people acquiring licenses for which they are not qualified to hold. Over the years, the Ghana Association of Driving Schools has enlivened this debate, suggesting that only through licensing could drivers be able to hold on their own.
But what is suprising is the seemingly disregard for even presidential convoys. The list of road accidents involving presidential convoys seems baffling enough. Some time ago, Ex President Kufuor narrowly escaped death when a taxicab crossed his convoy. One person died on the spot, while three others later at the hospital. Later, a student was killed when he was knocked off his bicycle in an accident involving the Vice President's convoy.
Again, the presidential convoy was involved in another accident in which two of the presidential security guards died. The accident occurred when the President's convoy was on its way to Accra after an official assignment in the Volta Region. Prior to that, two security men attached to the president had been killed when they were thrown out of their vehicle after it hit a big pothole during another official engagement.
In January, in that year, a drunken driver was arrested when he drove and blocked the presidential convoy. The driver ignored the sound of the siren to stop and drove on instead. In the process, the driver nearly knocked down one of the presidential dispatch riders with his Mercedes Benz bus.
Such reckless driving has led to the untimely death of some presidential dispatch outriders in the past two years. The latest victim was crushed to death by a pick-up in Accra, while ahead of the presidential convoy.
But the indiscipline has not been limited to the present period. It is recalled that ex- President Jerry Rawlings, also had a scare during his tenure of office when a mini bus drove into his convoy from an unauthorized entry. Four of his bodyguards died on the spot.
But the recent accidents have stirred up arguments in many social circles. The MTTU is threatening to be hard on recalcitrant drivers. But how far it could on this is another matter. It has inadequate equipment and is constrained logistically to check road offences.
From another perspective, it seems Ghana has not been prepared to accommodate the very rapid increase of traffic. Lack of experience and aggregated skills and knowledge has set back the concerted action to deal with the traffic safety problems.
Ghana's public transport, for instance, is in a mess, private commercial operators now fill the gap whose desire for profits knows no boundary. Drivers compete strenuously to pick up passengers. Some do not even rest at all, since the number of rounds they make in a day is a strong determinant of the money they can make.
People are now touting for the enforcement of traffic regulations to the letter. I think district assemblies should establish motor courts to handle traffic offences. This has become necessary because traffic offences are being delayed at the traditional courts. Such courts could fast track cases and ensure drivers are dealt with promptly and in accordance with the law.
Perhaps when we reach the point where individuals are valued and life is respected, then behaviour and habits will change for the better. I believe one way to curb the problem is to take tough measures to evolve harsh laws relating to those violating the rules.
Another way is for passengers themselves to take their safety in their own hands and refuse to travel in speeding buses or on over-crowded boats.
For now, the government seems to be listening to the views being expressed by the people, not merely because people are talking about road accidents but for the fact that it has experienced enough to know how it feels like.
I leave it here. . .
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