The ‘Devil’ On Our Roads! – Samuel K Obour

One musn’t wait to become one-eyed, one-legged or one-handed before crying out about the astronomically high spate of road accidents in this country, and the need for pragmatic steps to be taken to improve the situation.

It’s unfortunate that as important as it is, the issue of road accidents in Ghana is perpetually being pushed aside or kept on the backburner in media discussions and analyses.

According to the January 10, 2011, edition of the Daily Graphic, 6000 people nationwide have died in road accidents within the last three years and at least forty thousand people have been injured within the period.

Officials of the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit of the Ghana Police Service (MTTU) continue to offer various explanations in respect of the high spate of road accidents in the country. The officer- in-charge of Education, Research and Training at the head office of the MTTU told me in an interview that 98 per cent of road accidents in the country were avoidable and that only 2 per cent of accidents nationwide were due to bad roads and mechanical faults.

He mentioned  “indiscipline, over-speeding on roads and highways, drink-driving, use of drugs while driving, unlawful overtaking, driving carelessly, dangerously and inconsiderately and driving tired’’ as some of the causes of road accidents in the country. When I enquired what the MTTU were doing to stem the tide and reduce road accidents in the country, ASP Alexander Kwaku Obeng indicated that MTTU had stepped up efforts to clamp down on vehicular criminality. ‘’Patrol teams made up of MTTU and DVLA officials have begun patrolling the country’s roads and highways. We have also intensified efforts to educate road users through the media on the need to obey traffic rules and regulation’’, he said.

He went on to add that, ‘’Drivers who are caught flouting road rules and regulations will be prosecuted according to the laws of Ghana.”

Despite the constant sweet talk by the MTTU, several observers including this writer are getting increasingly worried that road accident cases in the country are increasing by the year. In 2007, 1346 died in road accidents across the country.

In 2008 that figure increased by 13 percent to stand at 1520. A further 1587 people lost their lives to road accidents in 2009, representing a 19 per cent increase on the 2007 figures. This figure increased by 30 per cent in 2010 to stand at 1760. Just a month into 2011, at least 135 people have lost their lives in road accidents already. And if steps are not taken to salvage then situation that figure could run into two thousands by the end of the year.

There is the need to tackle the pervasiveness of road accidents once and for all for the benefit of all and sundry. This is important, especially when we have no way of telling who the next road accident casualty will be. It is motorists who continue to be indicted as the causes of road accidents in the country, with the MTTU continually ‘clamping down’ on them.

While we continue to educate motorists on the need to be responsible while driving, we mustn’t fail to address other factors that contribute to road accidents in the country. One of such factors is corruption on the part of some MTTU and DVLA officials. What is being done about MTTU and DVLA officials whose corruption, inefficiency and lack of commitment to the national cause continue to contribute indirectly to road accidents in the country?

If the country is to succeed in her attempt to reduce road accidents, the first step will be to rid the MTTU and DVLA of corrupt officials who continually bend the law in favour of motorists. Motorists break traffic rules and regulations: They over-speed, drink-drive, and drive recklessly. Others drive without the requisite paper work and they do so with impunity, knowing that the Police officer is willing to bend the law in their favour for as low as one Ghana Cedis.

Some DVLA officials on the other hand, give licenses to unqualified drivers in return for money. It’s no longer news that some traffic police men go unto the roads not to keep motorists in line with the law but to exhort money from them. More worrying is the fact that private cars are seldom stopped for routine inspection. It is commercial and taxi drivers who are perpetually asked to stop for ‘scrutiny’. So when the officer shouts ‘p-a-r-k!’, the driver complys and quickly slips one Ghana cedis or more into one of his documents. Then he goes out of the vehicle to meet the Police officer. The officer pretends to inspect the document,  then he surreptitiously slips the money into his pocket and waves the driver off.

I was in public transport the other day. We approached a police check point and a dark, well-built officer peeped into the bus and immediately asked our driver to park. ‘Aban, what have I done?’ the driver asked after he had parked the vehicle. ‘You want to know what you have done’, the officer began. ‘Na npaboa wei na ye di kan car?’ The officer asked: to wit ‘is this your shoe good for driving?’ The driver, who couldn’t help laughing at this point, alighted to meet the officer.

I was vaguely surprised that the officer was more interested in the driver’s foot wear than in his paper work. The officer wasn’t even interested in ascertaining whether the driver’s vehicle was in good shape! The driver returned barely 10 seconds later having parted with one Ghana cedis.

The preceding exemplifies the sort of attitude some of our police men exhibit on our roads. It’s unfortunate that Police officials who are supposed to ruthlessly enforce the country’s road laws continue to close their eye to vehicular criminality on our roads, thereby inadvertently contributing to accidents. Needless to say, education on reducing road accidents must begin at the door step of the MTTU. Officers must be lectured on the need to be as professional as possible in their dealings with motorists.

The police and drivers are said to be friends, but that should not prevent the traffic police men from executing their duties professionally and arresting drivers who breach the law, when there is the need to. The MTTU boss, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Angwubutoge Awuni has already initiated some measures aimed at reducing road accidents in the country, notable among them is the ban on mobile phone use while driving. While commending ACP Awuni for pragmatic approach to the issue, I’ll urge him to make assiduous efforts to rid his outfit of corrupt and unpatriotic officers whose actions and inactions are not only contributing to road accidents in the country, but also giving the police a bad name.

We need dedicated officers who wouldn’t fail to enforce traffic regulation on our roads; officers who would enforce discipline on our roads by clamping down on recalcitrant drivers and even going ahead to arrest drivers who attempt to bribe them. Situations whereby Police officers exhort money from motorists and bend the law in their favour should end. When motorists realise that the police won’t hesitate to deal with them when they break traffic rules, they won’t fail to drive carefully.

There is also the need to deploy more police officers on our highways where most accidents occur. Though we have thousands of police men in the country, only a few of them patrol our roads and highways. This isn’t good enough; a police man’s duty post is on the streets where his presence alone is capable of deterring prospective lawbreakers, including vehicular criminals. If ACP Awuni succeeds in implementing some of these suggestions, we would be on the way to significantly reducing road accidents in the country.