Since the introduction of seat belt in the Ghana Highway Code no evidence exists to establish that conscious and concerted efforts were made to legislate it until the creation of the Secretariat of the erstwhile National Road Safety Committee.
In 1990 and 1994, the author benefited from two training programmes at Birmingham, UK and an Advanced Road Safety programme in Sweden. Both training programmes placed emphasis on the wearing of seatbelt. Upon his return, the author began to push for the introduction of seat belts.
But alas, the Ghanaian attitude immediately came into play: ‘trotros do not have seat belts in them’ was the widespread refrain. Undaunted, with the support of other key persons such as Ambassador J.Y.A Kwofie, former IGP and the late Mr. E. K. Salia, Minister of Transport and Communications, Cabinet convinced enough in 1996 to accept in principle the need to legislate on installation and wearing of seat belt.
Cabinet, however, urged that adequate education sensitization and publicity on the initiative should be embarked upon to make its introduction and implementation successful.
The campaign was supported by the then State Insurance Corporation, GBC (Television), The Ghanaian Times, Goil, Toyota, distributors of Subaru, Shell amongst others.
Films and literature were provided by Dr. Charles Mock of Haborview Medical Centre, Washington Seattle, who assisted the National Road Safety Committee in many ways.
The campaign was also supported by some churches and mosques, who distributed literature on ‘Why Wear Seat Belt’.
Like the seatbelts, crash helmets appeared on our regulatory framework in 1974. Regulation 19 of the repealed Road Traffic Offences Regulation, it was provided that ‘no person shall ride or be a pillion rider unless that person wears a crash helmet’.
The Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 (LI2180) further affirms the need for riders and pillion riders to wear crash helmets when riding motor cycles or being carried on motorcycles.
It is four decades and a year since the Road Traffic Offence Regulations made it mandatory and obligatory for users of motorcycles to wear crash helmets. Users of motorcycles hardly wear the crash helmet.
Ownership and usage of motorcycles have increased over the last years. The motorcycle has opened up the socio- economic and political landscape for citizens. It has considerably increased the mobility of a large number of the citizenry.
The improvement in mobility brought about by the motorcycle has, however, put the generation of riders to considerable risk. Head injuries constitute the most devastating injury for motorcyclists.
Victims who survive a head injury more often than not suffer brain damage which, invariably leads to impede their ability to continue to play their roles as breadwinners. Others end up needing personal care for the rest of their lives. This constitutes a drain on the resources of poor families.
A report titled ‘Statistics 2013’, submitted to the National Road Safety Commission by the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in November 2014, noted that the ‘proportion of motor-cyclist fatalities in the total number of road traffic fatalities increased from 2.7 percent in 2001 to 14.2 percent in 2011 and increased again to 14.5 percent in 2012 and now is at 17.0 percent in 2013’.
The report stated further that ‘the increasing use of motor cycles as taxis (popularly known as ‘Okada’) and the non-use of helmets by both riders and pillion riders might have contributed to the rising trend of motor cyclists fatalities.
A 2005 Cochrane study asserted that use of a helmet reduces the risk of a fatality by an average of 42 percent and of severe injury by 69 percent. High rates of helmet use lead to fewer deaths, shorter hospital stays and early recovery.
These translate to a reduction in the economic burden on the public. The potential of helmet use in the reduction of deaths has led to the adoption of the Helmet Vaccine Initiative which is spearheaded by FIA and AIP Foundations and World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility. Its goal is to achieve a helmet on every head in the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Cycling is becoming popular and as a means of transport, and quite a number of people use it as such. In both urban and rural areas, adults use it to go to farm and carry children to school.
More often than not the adults and children do not wear protective helmets like other road users, cyclists also get involved in road crashes. Some of the crashes can lead to severe and disabling injuries. Users of pedal cycle must, therefore, wear protective helmet.
Three or more decades of real world experience have established beyond any shade of doubt that seat belt saves lives. When one is not belted vehicle injuries that one sustains are not only private pain but a public burden. Ultimately it is the public and society that pick up the cost of police time, documentation, hospital treatment and the cost of loss of productivity.
In 1971, when Cote D’Ivoire introduced legislation on wearing of seat belt, it was limited to the front seat occupant.
In March 1983, rear seat passengers were requested to wear seat belts after a Cabinet Minister died in a crash. In Ghana, an MP died on the Accra-Winneba road during the First Parliament of the Fourth Republic. Are there lessons to be learnt? Wear seat belt and protective helmet each and every time you use the road, for your own protection.
By Dr. J. M. Y. Amegashie, FCILT