When will we see a change?
On Wednesday I read on a news site that 10 people had been crushed to death after a truck trailer carrying fish fell on a bus and cab filled with passengers in Abeka-Lapaz in Accra. The truck trailer had been hit by another bus which had been speeding from the Kwashieman end of the George Walker Bush Motorway. This took me back to December last year, where I distinctively remember hearing many reports of accidents on roads in Ghana. In that month alone 246 people died and 1,260 were injured in car accidents. I went on to do more research, and the statistics I found were quite worrying.
Upon examination of data collected by the NRSC on traffic accidents in Ghana, one can see that fatalities which numbered in hundreds from 1991 to 1994 has now moved to its thousands from 1995 up until now with no signs of decreasing. Successive government have made a lot of noise about road accidents in Ghana but we have yet to see a significant decrease in the number of accidents and deaths. Why are road accidents steadily increasing in Ghana? Why are roads in Ghana in such poor conditions and more importantly, what is the government doing to address this situation?
The alarming rate which accidents occur in Ghana has made it a priority on governments’ agenda for many years. And so it should be – the Ghana National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) statistics show that between 2002 and 2008, 13,166 people were killed in road accidents. Of that figure, 42% were pedestrians, 23% were passengers in buses, 12% were car occupants, while the remaining 23% consisted of riders and passengers of bicycles, motorcycles, and occupants of heavy goods vehicles and pickups. And just last year, the MTTU (Motor Traffic and Transport Unit), reported that 2,330 Ghanaians died in road accidents alone with 13,572 road accidents being recorded. And is not just human lives that are lost to road accidents – an average of 1.6% of Ghana’s GDP is lost every year to road accidents.
Increasing population numbers in Ghana have has led to increased vehicle ownership, meaning the number of cars on our roads is forever on the rise. Vehicle ownership rose from 511,063 in 2000 to 841,314 in 2006. However majority of road accidents are caused by some drivers’ blatant disregard of road safety regulations. Drunk-driving, over speeding, overloading and fatigue driving are rampant among majority of drivers in Ghana. Some drivers deliberately ignore traffic regulations because they know they can get away with it. Even though there’s a penal system that punishes those who break traffic regulations, culprits are hardly ever brought to justice.
As much as some drivers are to blame for accidents, poor road conditions are also a major cause of accidents in Ghana. The Ministry of Roads and Highways in Ghana must make it their priority that roads are fit for drivers. Negligence and poor or no maintenance at all has led major highways in Ghana to deteriorate, creating hazardous driving conditions. The Accra-Tema Motorway is an example in point – it hasn’t been repaired for more than 10 years, and it is reported that as many as 541 potholes were found on the motorway. This is highly unacceptable in light that the government collects million of cedi in road tolls and vehicle use. Why isn’t this money being used to maintain the roads?
Then there are the actions of some officials. Corruption has become so widespread in Ghana that some drivers know that if they’re stopped for breaking a traffic offence, they can easily bribe their way out of the situation. Corruptible officials in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) in Ghana have made it possible for unfit drivers with equally unfit vehicles to do as they please on Ghana roads by acquiring them legitimate driver’s licenses and documents that certify their vehicles fit for the road. The fact that they can endanger others is not taken into account – so long as they’re given money to line their pockets, anyone can get a license. It is the same with some traffic police officers. Overloaded trotros and trucks and speeding cars are a common sight in Ghana. Yet majority of these drivers go free because they bribed the officer who stopped them, or the officers simply don’t care.
These are serious problems that need to be addressed. The Ghanaian government has stated that it aims to reach a single digit accident fatality by 2015. This is extremely unlikely in a country where an average of 1800 people die from road accidents. To realise this goal drastic measures are needed. And reducing accidents in Ghana is not a responsibility that lies with the government alone. It will take the combined effort of the DVLA, MTTU, NRSC, the Ghana Highway Authority, the Ministry of Transport, all other transport and road associations as well as the media to achieve the goal mentioned above.
There are many simple but effective strategies that will go a long way if implemented properly. First of all, the government and the NRSC need to create a set of standard road safety policies that all drivers must adhere to as there currently isn’t one in Ghana. Drivers must then be thoroughly educated in these safety policies and the punitive consequences that will be administered if these safety regulations are broken. The DVLA must also implement a system where only competent drivers and safe vehicles are issued drivers’ licenses and documents. Secondly, the government needs to increase the number of stop and checks conducted on our roads. The number of traffic police from the MTTU must also be increased in the different regions in Ghana if unfit drivers are to be caught. Thirdly, the government needs to repair bad roads in Ghana and create a system that can allow the public to report damaged roads to the MTTU. Last year the government secured from China a $13 billion loan for infrastructure, some of which was to go towards the construction of roads. Surely some of that money can be set aside for repair and maintenance as well? Lastly, the government must intensify public education on the dangers of speeding, drunk driving, fatigue driving, overloading and driving unfit vehicles through the various media outlets in Ghana.
Obviously Ghana has a long way to go, but if these steps are followed, then number of lives lost unnecessarily through road accidents will slowly but surely be reduced. There is a time for talking and a time for doing – the government must start taking real action now.
By Yaa Nyarko