The road is the primary mode of transport as every journey begins with the road and ends with the road. By extension it stands to reason that majority of us use the road than other modes namely, air, land, maritime and rail. The various modes of transport which in any way includes road transport provides and grant access to socio, economic, health and educational opportunities, etc.
Who constitute community of road users? Road users are made up of drivers, riders of two wheeler, namely, motorcycles, tricycles, Pedalcycles Passengers, Pedestrians, animals, cart pushers. All theseuse, share the road and compete for space and the usage of the road for twenty four hours in every day, seven days in a week and throughout the year and across borders of Countries within the ECOWAS Sub-region and beyond. What then is the thrust of this article? Over a period of time, I have observed that more often than not, many of us ignore rules of the road which are formulated for our safety and rather choose convenience and comfort as opposed to our safety and invariably end up to our detriment if not to our injury then to our demise.
The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines convenience as freedom from effort or difficulty.The same dictionary defines safety as the condition of being safe.
Personal within the context of his article refers to the driver, motorcyclist, pedalcyclist, and pedestrian. Passenger, refers to those who are not engaged in driving or riding and are either sitting in a private vehicle or in a commercial vehicle or a pillion rider.
The purpose of this article is not to blame anybody or anyone. On the contrary, as long as we live, we continue to learn. The purpose therefore is to transmit information and education so that lives can be saved. To start, it is important to state and remind ourselves, we owe a duty to ourselves, responsibilities and obligations to others to ensure our safety and their safety as well, each and every time we use the road. I will hereafter emphasize the thrust and purpose of this article through what I encountered, observed and experienced as well as the knowledge that I have.
Since at one time or the other we use the road as Pedestrians, I wish to start with Pedestrians. Pedestrian’s safety is of utmost concern of all of us. The reason being first and foremost, that we are pedestrians at one time or another, whether as joggers, shoppers, going to work, catching the trotro or walking to take some fresh air. Further the annual pedestrian fatality rate is more than 40%. Parents have a special responsibility to set an example to children. Parents and Guardians do not cross the road at designated crossings. Pedestrians are obliged to cross the road at designated places, namely, at Pedestrian crossing, Pedestrian footbridges, at traffic lights, where there are traffic wardens and where they can see and be seen. It is a common sight to see pedestrians crossing outside pedestrian footbridge. There is a pedestrian footbridge at the Aburi Girls Senior High School which enables the students to move from one location to the other. I learnt the footbridge was constructed after a student was knocked and killed whilst crossing the road. The students have faithfully and continuously used the footbridge. What do we as Parents and guardians who live in Accra and its suburbs and other towns do on daily basis. The Kaneshie Pedestrian footbridge was constructed in the 1990’s. Quite a number of us jump over the barricade because we consider the footbridge far away from our destination. So we look at our origin and destination and consider that the footbridge is far away. It is quicker, easier, accessible and convenient for us to jump and reach our destination earlier and save time. In the process we sacrifice safety upon convenience and if we are not lucky our destination will either be Korle- Bu or Awudome. It is traditional and cultural that when a friend, relative or family member passes on we wear either black, red or white clothing depending on the nature of the relationship and age of the deceased. Invariably black appears the dominant mode of dressing. What usually happens, although we know we are wearing black or dark clothes and our complexion is dark, we stay at the funeral grounds after dust had set in knowing very well that we would be crossing the road at one point or several points when we leave the funeral grounds. In so doing we expose ourselves to danger. For the driver driving in the evening may not see human being but dark. We therefore choose convenience over safety.
It has become customary and acceptable behavior of Pedestrians to cross the road outside designated Pedestrian crossings. I do not think I alone who observes this.
On the Ring road towards Danquah Circle, there is a Pedestrian crossing. One observes on a regular basis that Pedestrians who want to go to the Bus Stop which is located opposite, invariably crosses the road outside the Pedestrian crossing.
Section 29(2) of the Road Traffic Act, 2004, Act 683 states as follows:
(2) A person who jaywalks or ignores traffic signal, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 25 penalty units or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one day.
On page 1 of the Ghana Highway Code, pedestrians are advised to walk on the left-hand side of the road. The advice goes further to state that it is safer to face oncoming traffic.
Do we religiously abide and follow this advice. For purpose of convenience one comes across pedestrians using the road with their back to traffic. Some pedestrians were knocked as a result of vehicle crashing into them. It is further advised that not more than two people should walk abreast. This advice notwithstanding, it is common sight to see more than two persons walking on the road. This attitude amounts to putting convenience above their individual and collectivesafety.
We drivers at times take certain decisions within the parameters of time, comfort and convenience with total disregard for the rules of the road. Each and every time we drive on the road, it is required of us to drive according to road, traffic and weather conditions which are meant to ensure safety. Few examples would be provided to illustrate this point. It is required of us to read the road for road and traffic conditions change often and continuously. It is common to find that drivers are in the habit of dodging potholes and in the process they come into the lane of opposing traffic. Some of these drivers have previously been using that stretch of the road and must be deemed to know where potholes, road ramps, speed ramps are but they approach them with excessive speed.When you attempt to avoid pothole you need to slowdown and meanwhile the approaching traffic from the opposite lane is at top speed and therefore would reach you earlier than you think and assume. The Ghanaian Times of Tuesday 4th December 2018 reported on its front page as follows;“7 perish in gory accident … 12 others injured. In summary , on page 3, it is stated that, “at a section of the road between Nyanahin and Akoraboukrom the sprinter bus bumped into a pothole and veered off into the opposite lane and collided head on with a pickup with registration number GE 7091-16 driven by Nana Salifu”.
When drivers approach a “U” Turn and are expected to negotiate in a U-turn and therefore fall in a queue, they invariably drive into outer lane of the ‘U’ turn. In so doing they block the view of the driver(s) in the inner lane. In that case since they can see approaching vehicle from the right they have advantage as to the time to make the turn. It is a clear case of convenience over safety. A basic principle in road crash prevention is see and be seen. Once he blocked the view of the other driver he needs to wait, observe before deciding whether it is safe to make the turn.
At traffic lights, each and every time the light turns green, it is usual occurrence to hear follow-up vehicle of the vehicle, positioned behind at the traffic light tooting horn for the vehicle ahead to proceed and that it is waiting time. When the light turns green it does not mean that you should go, On the contrary it means you may go if it is safe. At least the driver in charge of the vehicle behind the stop line is expected, and advised to wait at least three seconds to make sure that it is safe. For more often than not, when the light change to amber, approaching vehicles are supposed and expected to slow down, and stop but they do not so if the green comes and you proceed, you would more often than not be involved in road crash.
Another example of choosing convenience over safety occurs when some of us drivers make ‘U’-turns on the urban roads and highways where there is no designated sign for such a turning. In so doing we come up against approaching traffic from either direction. I remember vividly that when I was working at the erstwhile National Road Safety Committee at the Nima Police Station, a driver made a ‘U’-turn on the Cape-Coast –Accra highway and crashed occurred and the rest is history and imagine the consequences.
At week-ends, after memorial and thanksgiving Service you observe vehicles parked parallel to each other notwithstanding that the rules of the road prohibit it.What is disturbing is that some sympathizers and mourners park at entrances of residences which are along the route. Meanwhile after parking their cars, they would go and be participating and enjoying the three Ds, namely drinking, dining and dancing. Should there be an emergency, who would find them to move their vehicles from the entrances they have blocked.
Drivers use mobile phones whilst driving. This behaviour cuts across both private and commercial drivers.
They call or receive calls irrespective of where they are, namely roundabout, inter sections, junctions, motorway or highways. Each situation bears its own degree of risk but convenience is allowed to take precedence over their own safety, safety of passengers, goods whether of economic value or hazardous.
Regulations 187 of the Road Traffic Regulations 2012 LI2180 have adequate provisions which regulate parking in town and urban areas. For the purpose of this article, I will state two provisions. Regulation 187(1) (d) states as follows: A person shall not park a motor vehicle or trailer in front of an entrances or exit of the building, or
(e) On a road unless in an emergency situation and adequate advance warning is provided.
187 (4) provides as follows:
A person driving a motor vehicle shall not park the motor vehicle abreast another motor vehicle on the road.
Making U- turns at points which are not designated for U- turns constitute and amount to prioritization of convenience over safety. This unreasonable risk is prevalent on some urban roads and highways. Recently one of the major newspapers reported that on the Pokuase- Kutunse road, there are over 50 illegal ‘U’ turns. When you are turning to join the road whilst traffic is approaching, it reaches you earlier than you think for the two speeds are not the same. You therefore put yourself in harm’s way.
Another example of putting convenience before safety is if on a single carriageway, there is vehicle parked in your lane and instead of waiting behind the parked vehicle you accelerate to overtake the parked vehicle thereby compelling the approaching vehicle which has no obstacle in its lane to stop for you to pass. It is not only commercial drivers who indulge in this unsafe attitude. It is also done by those in suit, coat and tie.
It is common to find at both on urban roads as well as on the highways broken down.
The driver more often than not chooses not to make any effort to have the vehicle tow away. He more often than not chooses to go home and sleep thereby subjecting fellow road users to harm and injury. The other day I came across refuse truck broken on the road and the drive placed behind the vehicle a water dispenser which contains of water. How visible could that be to a driver in charge of an oncoming vehicle particularly at night? A number of persons have crashed into broken down vehicles. We owe an obligation and responsibility to the safety of each other as we belong to the community of road users. More often than not critical and scarce health care resources get consumed by road crash cases. This you would agree would no doubt hurt any country is ability to respond to other urgent Health Care needs.
Humans as we are, we tend to look and emphasize convenience as opposed to safety. Quite a number of us both drivers and passengers, we take the attitude that we are only travelling a short distance and therefore we do not need to wear seat belt.
On page 4 of the Ghana Highway Code it states in paragraph 22 as follow “fit seat belts in your car and make sure they are always used even on short trips”. This statement or advice was given to us in 1974 but we still refuse or fail to wear seat belt because we are driving from Osu to the Ministries.
It is a beautiful and pleasant sight to see couples drive at weekends with their children after a tedious week. The curious eyes go after those couples to find out and know the sitting position of the children particularly those between the ages of 3 and 5. What does the Road Traffic Act states? Section 14(1) states as follows:
A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road where a child of five years or under five years is in the front seat of the motor vehicle commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 100 penalty units or to a imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
What does my curious eyes see? Many of us including myself see our mothers, wives, sisters carrying children below five on their lap whilst sitting at the front seat. The seat belt is meant for only one person. Should a crash occur the child you are carrying on your lap would fly from your hand and become a flying missile
The sad but inevitable truth is that the said flying missile would not land in enemy territory but at the hospital or the grave. As for the grave it is always there to claim its own. Let us always think of safety more than convenience.
It is also common to find children between 3 and 5 years old standing in between the front seats whilst their parents are driving. You may think you are enjoying the Company of your children but the truth of the matter is that you are exposing them to harm. For in the event of sudden and sharp brake the child will hit the interior of the vehicle which may not be friendly. Again in rear-end collision; the child may hit the windscreen or other parts of the interior of the vehicle
Motorcyclists are one of the most vulnerable groups of road users.Motorcyclist are 3 times more likely to be killed or injured than pedestrians and over 30 times more likely to be killed or injured per kilometer travelled than bus and coach passengers. The use and riding of motorcycle present its own structure of convenience over safety. The rider at times wear crash helmet but do not fasten the stripe but let it loose possibly to tell the Police that he is wearing a crash helmet. In the event of a crash the helmet would find its destination and your head would also find its destination. According to the Director of Education and Research at the Headquarters of the Motor Transport and Traffic Department,Supt. of Police Mr Alex Obeng 600 people using motorcycle died in motorcycle related road crashes. For all you know majority of them were not wearing crash helmet. When you visit a number of Police stations in the country you find motorcycles parked at location. Do not think that they are being processed for court. On the contrary the rider and users have passed on. Some of the users have left behind widows and teenage children and would look after them. Let us not deceive ourselves; road crashes disproportionately affect the poor making road safety on economic development imperative. Ourmothers wives and sisters who are carried as pillionridershardly wear crash helmet because they have just plaited the hair and do not want any foreign material to disturb their beautiful hair arrangement. They are making a choice between convenience and safety. What is worrisome and disturbing is our wives, mothers, sisters after nine months of pregnancy will carry their infant babies at their backs whilst sitting on the motorcycle, meanwhile the two of them are not protected and secured anyway. At times when I look at the preceding situation, do they forget the 9 month of carriage and the experience duringlabour. Children are fragile so let us protect them in the course of carriage and transportation.
The various situations and scenarios narrated above involving children constitute unnecessary exposure of children to harm. This constitutes an offence. Section 71 of the Criminal Code 1960 Act 29 states as follows:“whoever unlawfully exposes or abandons any child, under seven years of age, in such a manner that any harm is likely to be caused to it, shall be guilty of a misdemenour”. Both fathers and mothers are guilty of this offence. I have on a number of times saw men carrying two or three year old on their lap whilst driving on the road. On Monday the 18th February 2019 while we were on the road, my son and I saw a middle-aged man with his son on his lap driving around 700 pm. The said man had placed pleasure over and above safety of his son or nephew. What he failed or refused to advert his mind to is that the interior of the vehicle is not friendly.
At times vehicles owners and operators particularly commercial vehicle owners take certain decisions which result in placing convenience before safety. There had been instances when a vehicle was involved in rear end collisions or single vehicle crash and at the scene of the crash the driver would explain that the brakes failed. He would go further to say that I told the owner that the brakes are not functioning properly but my master said I should go and come and that the brakes would be fixed the next day. This is a clear case of placing convenience before safety.
One cannot write on convenience and safety without reference to riders and users of motorcycle, tricycles and bicycles. These motorized vehicle and unmotorised vehicles are not as stable as cars, buses, and trucks. It is strange that a number of users do not consider their personal protection and safety. It is common sight to encounter on the road both riders and pillion riders not wearing crash helmet. Both the Ghana Highway Code Published in 1974 and the Road Traffic Offences Regulations 1974,LI 953 provided in Regulation 19 now repealed that no person shall ride a motor cycle or be a pillion rider without wearing crash helmet. This provision in the then Road Traffic Offences Regulation have been revised and expanded. So let us all come to think of it as far back as 1974 when the code was published and regulation enacted our fellow citizens still ride on our roads and Public places without crash helmet. It is further worrying and unacceptable our wives, mothers, sisters carry their babies either on the lap or their back on motorcycles.
The motorcycle designers and manufacturers have provided two handles for a purpose. It is common to see them talking on the phone whilst riding.
Vehicle owner’s operators also sacrifice safety over convenience. Vehicle defects it is determined to constitute about 91% towards road crash. When time is due to send the vehicle for testing and issuance of roadworthiness of the vehicle, vehicle owners and operators tell the driver to go and come and the vehicle would be sent next time. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority has authorized a number of private vehicle Testing stations which are accessible and vehicle owners and operators can subject their vehicles for testing in order to ensure that their vehicles are fitand roadworthy it needs to be emphasized here that the roadworthiness of vehicle is the primary responsibility of the user and the owner.
Vehicle owner and operators of Public Transport owe it as a duty, responsibility and obligation that each and every time they employ drivers to drive their vehicles to ensure that the class of licence that the driver holds permits him to drive that class of vehicles. Class of licence has a relationship with class of vehicle the person drives. For purpose of convenience we do not takethis into consideration. I want a driver, I have got one and so be it.
Do we as transport operators know the medical condition and fitness of the driver? Some drivers are suffering from epilepsy yet they are driving. I do remember that when I was working at the secretariat of the then National Road Safety Committee at the Nima Police Station an accident occurred at Cape Coast involving a commercial vehicle. I travelled with DCOP Alhaji Mustapha Garba, when he was in charge of the Central MTTU (now MTTD) to Cape Coast and we met with the leadership of the Driver Union. They told us that they were aware that the driver was suffering from epilepsy but he was taking medicines. They ended by telling us that if he did not drive how would he eat?Another classical example of convenience over safety.
As stated earlier research has long established that vehicle defects contribute 9% of the causes of road crash. What is however noticeable is that if the primary features of the vehicle give way the consequences can be fatal. When brakes, or shafts are wearing or developing fault or any other feature for that matter, signs and symptoms show.
On page 29 of the Wednesday, the 23rd of January, 2019 edition of the Daily Graphic it was reported that six died, twelve injured in accident at Biahu, WR. A summary of the Police report on the accident revealed that the shaft of a heavy good vehicle carrying sand got detached and fell on the road. The mate went for it and in the process of removing it from the road, a speeding mini-bus with passengers in an attempt to avoid hitting the mate rammed into the rear of the heavy goods vehicle leading to loss of lives and injuries. The vehicle is an equipment and it can fail. It is important that we pay attention to signs and symptoms on our vehicles.So that we can deal with defects.
In view of the fact that caring of road crash victimsconstitute a cost to the health care system,there is the need to pose few questions. These are as follows, how long do we ignore or allow those who ride motorcycle or are pillion riders continue to use the motorcycle without wearing crash helmet? How long shall we turn our eyes off the road when fathers, mothers and guardians expose children to harm within the context of how they transport them on means of transport when as far back as 1960, the Criminal Code, Act 29 specifically made it an offence for any person to expose a child between 3 and 5 years to harm?
Are we going to wait for a disaster to happen to one of these innocent children before we act? Our DNA were reactive than proactive?
To conclude it is truism that when we prioritize convenience over personal or passenger safety we increase the risks of using the road and we put and expose ourselves to harm, injury, death and property damage.
J.M.Y. AMEGASHIE FCILT
- The writer is a Lawyer and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. He is also the author of safe Driving Simplified (Q & A) Revised and Expanded edition. The writer email address is firstname.lastname@example.org