Road accidents on the increase
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 mangled vehicles and bodies continue to be dangled before them in the media.
The Director-General of the Ghana Health Services, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosah, could not have put it more succinctly when he declared recently that the most "deadly disease", at the moment is motor accidents.
Since Ghana’s President, John Kufuor assumed the mantle of leadership, he has 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 have also died this year owing to accidents and the Vice-President’s convoy has also been involved in an accident in which a teenager has 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 escalation in road accidents.
The driving standard of many drivers has also been recognised to be 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 licences through dubious means, a situation that has led to wrong people acquiring licences 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 beats the imagination of many people is the seemingly disregard for even presidential convoys. The list of road accidents involving presidential convoys seems baffling enough. Last month, Kufuor narrowly escaped death when a taxicab crossed his convoy. One person died on the spot, while three others later at the hospital. In March, a student was killed when he was knocked off his bicycle in an accident involving the Vice President’s convoy.
In February, 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, 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 unauthorised entry. Four of his bodyguards died on the spot.
But the April accident involving Kufuor’s convoy has now 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 shambles, 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. Vincent Appiah, a Senior Technical officer of the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Authority (VELD) says district assemblies should establish motor courts to handle traffic offences. "This has become necessary because traffic offences are being delayed at the traditional courts". Appiah suggests that 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," says Kofi Kyeremeh, a parent, who lost his only son through an accident recently. He believes one way to curb the problem is to take tough measures to evolve harsh laws relating to those violating the rules.
"Another way," argues Kwame Adu, an accident victim, "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.