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Ghana struggling to enforce seatbelt law 19 years after passage

For nearly two de­cades since the pas­sage of Road Traffic Act, 2004 (Act 683), and the Road Traffic Regulation Legislative Instrument 2012 (LI) 2180, which make seatbelts use compulsory for all vehicle occupants, Ghana is still struggling to enforce these laws.

This is despite various studies, including that of the World Health Organisation (WHO), that show that seatbelts reduce risk of death and serious injury by about 50 per cent.

Factors like duty bearers’ inability to enforce vehicle safety standards, lack of consensus on implementation, and negative public attitudes have together hampered the nation’s goal of using laws to cut road crash deaths and injuries by half.

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Over the past six months, observations by The Ghanaian Times have revealed that many public vehicles lack safety belts for rear and front-right passengers with seat belts for drivers in taxis and intra-city mini-busses, commonly called ‘trotros’, often dangling loose, being faulty or non-existent.

Yet, officials from the Motor Transport and Traffic Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service primarily target drivers and occasionally front-right passengers, creating a wrong impression that seat belts are meant for them alone.

Kwame Nkrumah Circle and Kaneshie are transport hubs in Accra, with travellers using vehicles operated by private and public transport companies. While some vehicles have seat belts, many are faulty and unused. Station managers do not ensure passengers buckle up. For mini-busses like the Benz 207, seat belts are fitted for drivers only.

The situation is similar in other regional capitals and parts of the country, according to reports. Some ride-hailing vehicles have seat belts, but passengers do not wear them.

Across the country, children are sometimes seen in school buses, taxis and private vehicles without restraints. At times their heads popping out.

Legal framework

Section 119 of Road Traffic Regulations of 2012 (LI 2180) affirms the earlier provisions noted in the Road Traffic Act of 2004 (Act 683) and require that all drivers and front seat passengers wear seat belts. Children under five must use child safety restraints, while children aged five to 18 must wear seat belts, if sitting on the front or back seats.

Vehicles must be fitted with seat belts for the driver and front passenger seats within two years of the regulations. Commercial vehicles must have seat belts for front occupants.

The Licensing Authority may exempt people from the seat belt requirements for medical reasons. Those who violate these regulations face fines ranging from 10 to 50 penalty units (GH¢120 to GH¢600) and/or prison terms up to three months.

Road safety in Ghana

Road crashes continue to kill many people in Ghana. Last year, 2,373 lives were lost in 14,960 crashes road crashes with 15,690 injured, according to data provided by the National Road Safety Authority (NSRA). There was decrease in crashes by 7.55 per cent; death toll by 20.10 per cent; and injuries by 1.54 per cent.

In terms of vehicles involved in the crashes, the statistics indicated that from January to December 2022, a total of 25,754 vehicles, comprising 8,645 commercial vehicles with private vehicles and motorcycles recorded 11,677 and 5,432, respectively. Additionally, 2,680 pedestrians were knocked down while walking along or crossing the roads.

Occupants of motorcycles constituted 974 deaths, representing about 41 per cent of the total fatalities, followed by 805 deaths from commercial vehicles, representing 33.9 per cent, and 594 deaths (25.1 per cent) from private vehicles.

Seat belts are saviours

The WHO and other partners launched guidelines in March to promote the use of seat-belts and child safety seats. It notes that 90 per cent of the one million annual road crash deaths happen in developing countries where seat belt use is low.

The guidelines show that seat belts have saved more lives than any other road safety measure by reducing deaths up to 50 per cent. Child safety seats have cut deaths up to 71 per cent for young infants.

It explained that seat-belt use is below 50 per cent in Africa and below 40 per cent in Southeast Asia while some South American countries report child restraint use rates below 10 per cent.

According to the US Department of Transportation, the national seat belt usage rate was 91 per cent in 2022 and seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017 alone.

Data from the department’s website shows that 51 per cent of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020 were not wearing seat belts, representing a four per cent increase from 2019.

The department explains that seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017 and could have saved an additional 2,549 people had they worn seat belts.

Why apathy?

However, there is apathy in Ghana. Akua Gyimaah said she does not wear seat belts in commercial vehicles because of the fear that she might be trapped in case of a crash.

“If anything happens and we have to run and I can’t unstrap, I could die. I prefer to feel free in the vehicle,” she said.

A ride-hailing service driver, Paul Danso, explained that he wears the seat belt out of obligation and not safety, because wearing it for several hours leaves some chest pain.

“I work for more than 10 hours a day, mostly strapped, it is uncomfortable but I do so to avoid trouble from the police,” he said.

For Elsie Kyeremeh, “Most seat belts are dirty so I do not want to soil my dress. After all, if it is a short distance, I am not sure I would be in danger without seat belt.”

Failed attempt

The National Road Safety Authority (NSRA), Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and the Motor Transport and Traffic Directorate of the Ghana Police Service began enforcing the mandatory use of seatbelts in vehicles on September 1, 2014.

The licensing authority refused to register new public transport vehicles without seat belts for each seat and also declined to renew the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles lacking seatbelts for all seats.

However, the implementation faced strong opposition from commercial vehicle operators, including the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU), due to lack of consensus and other considerations.

The then Greater Accra GPRTU Chair, Robert Sarbarh, argued among other things that the law should apply more to intercity vehicles than intra-city ones. He contended that seat belts were not the only safety measures and authorities should broaden their focus to include other preventive measures like road markings, street lighting and traffic lights.

The second coming

The DVLA, the lead implementation agency, seems not to have given up as its Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Prince Opoku Adusei, last year announced that all commercial passenger vehicles would from next year be made to comply with the mandatory seat belts policy.

A report by Citinewsroom said he made the announcement in Koforidua on November 10, 2022, during the opening ceremony for the training of accident and traffic enforcement officers and DVLA Technician Engineers.

He reportedly said the authority had successfully gone through the approval section for implementation and was awaiting final clearance from the Ministry of Finance for the policy to be implemented in 2023.

“Very soon, hopefully, next year, we shall come back to you again to fashion out a way to ensure the smooth implementation of this very important policy. This especially affects vehicles that come as vans, which are converted to passenger vehicles,” Mr Opoku Adusei said.

Efforts to get the DVLA to elaborate on its new strategy were unsuccessful as of the time of filing this report.

Transport operators / MTTD

When contacted on the level of engagement with transport operators, the General Secretary of the GPRTU, Godfred Abulbire, said he was not aware of any plan by the DVLA to roll out the policy on seatbelts.

For the Head of Education Research and Training at the department, Chief Superintendent Alexander Kweku Obeng, their concentration had been on drivers since the implementation of the law was suspended.

He said when the DVLA was ready for full implementation, they would ensure compliance on the road.

Way forward

WHO Road Safety Specialist, Dr Meleckidzedeck Khayesi, posits that “Vehicles are proliferating much faster than populations are growing, so life-saving safety restraints must be taken up now.”

He is right. Promoting seat belt use is crucial in reducing road crash fatalities and injuries. This would help save lives and achieve particularly Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Governments and stakeholders should, therefore, reach consensus on implementation of the laws. After 19 years, we might have gathered enough experiences and lessons to get it right.

BY JONATHAN DONKOR

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