In a recent publication, Ghana’s death toll of over 1,700 casualties in the first nine months of 2016 was adjudged one of the highest in the world. As a little boy living in Michel Camp with my parents in the early 1960s, I had the pleasure and privilege of being one of the early users of the newly constructed Accra-Tema Motorway, taking rides with my parents anytime they came to Accra.
The 19- kilometre solid concrete road was modelled on the German autobahn and was intended by President Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah to be the first of many such motorways to link major cities in Ghana. It was simply an amazing construction and I loved being driven on it. There were telephone booths at regular intervals for emergencies and solid ground reflectors for night driving.
Today, however, in my retirement, even though it is the fastest way of getting to Accra from my home, I avoid the motorway like a plague if I can. Why? It has become a death trap with accidents occurring frequently. People drive on it at top speed like Jehu, overtaking every vehicle in sight, while criss-crossing and zigzagging to avoid potholes! Indeed, some drive like Japanese pilots on a Kamikaze mission!
Towards the end of the World War Two in 1945, Japan resorted to desperate measures as the end appeared to be in sight for them. She trained pilots in the Japanese Air Force for suicide missions of crashing their planes loaded with explosives on any allied targets they saw, especially warships. They were the equivalent of today’s suicide bombers. Today, such is the fury and ferocity of driving on the Accra-Tema Motorway! Unfortunately, this dangerous driving appears to be only the tip of the iceberg of dangerous driving in Ghana.
As for the commercial motorbike “okada,” riders, weaving through traffic dangerously without helmets, and going through red lights with impunity appears to be their stock in trade. What surprises me is that, policemen at traffic lights have accepted such misbehaviour by motorbike riders as normal.
Many years ago, I took my driving test in a car with the Manual or Stick shift gears. Before then, my driving instructor told me that,” if you do not drive in the correct gears, the vehicle will drive you by stalling on you and stopping.” I was also taught Defensive Driving and Road Courtesy. Today, modern technology has replaced manual gear vehicles with automatic transmissions. This has reduced driving to speeding hard and then jamming on the brakes for an instant stop! Unfortunately, driving automatic vehicles demands very little thinking!
So drivers can afford to drive with one hand, while making a mobile phone call with the other. Though I do not have statistics to support this, the thinking is that, some accidents have been caused with loss of lives because the drivers were distracted while driving and talking on the phone.
Recently, a speeding car from a minor road to an intersection made me feel the driver probably had brake failure. I, therefore, honked and stopped. The young woman driving angrily pointed at her head with the insulting gesture to me that, I did not have any sense! I still do not know what I did wrong to deserve that. She looked young enough to be my daughter. I sympathised with her as a product of bad parenting! Unfortunately, drivers trading insults has become routine.
“In situ repairs”
A common feature on our roads these days is a phenomenon I call “in situ repairs.” When a vehicle breaks down in the middle of the road, it is fixed there with total disregard for the resulting traffic jam, whereas moving it a few metres off the road would have prevented any traffic build-up.
Sometimes, some of the things we call roads are anything, but roads. Department of Urban Roads, please fix the road linking Spintex Road to Communities 18-20, Lashibi!
On a recent visit to Kumasi for a funeral, I was driven through what qualified more as trenches than a road to Sokoban, a suburb of Kumasi. As for the rural areas, especially in the cocoa growing areas of the Western and Ashanti regions, I wonder how we can do this to ourselves as a nation, by such neglect of roads!
Elsewhere, driving offences are punishable by an increase in insurance premium for the offender. Where it persists, the offending driver has his driving licence revoked. Indeed, at the time of writing on Tuesday, December 13, BBC had announced the imposition of an eighty thousand dollar fine on Ivorian football star Yahaya Toure for driving under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, he has been banned from driving for 18 months. Again, very fast buses meant for ambulances in advanced countries, on decommissioning, are imported into Ghana and metal seats welded in them to play the role of passenger vehicles!
In the event of an accident, the welded metals do the killing of innocent passengers. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), why do you register decommissioned ambulances brought to Ghana as passenger vehicles? Please ban them to save lives. Recklessly driving vehicles that are not roadworthy aside, our roads themselves are not vehicle worthy! If the police checked reckless drivers, ensured that vehicles were roadworthy and prosecuted errant drivers, casualties from road traffic accidents would reduce. This is on the assumption that the government will provide good and safe roads.
A combination of reckless driving, poorly maintained vehicles and bad roads make driving very unsafe in Ghana. Unfortunately, the Police do not appear to enforce breaches of driving regulations by arraigning offenders before the courts. Mr IGP, why are vehicles fwith DP and DV plates moving about so confidently? Christmas, paradoxically, is a season of road accidents. It is only when the police enforce road traffic laws rigorously that some Ghanaians will be forced to drive with commonsense, and thus reduce the carnage on our roads.