In August of this year, a very dear friend of mine lost his father in a gruesome road accident along the Port Loko- Kambia Road. The day before that fatal incident, he had visited me and has updated me on how his family was doing, especially the new business his late father has just started with some investors. Twenty four hours later, he had called to inform me that his father was killed in a gruesome road accident. I was with the family throughout the day of the burial and just listening to their agonies and cries was indicative of the uncertain future that awaits them after the sudden death of the ďbreadwinnerĒ. My friendís predicament is just a far too common occurrence now in Sierra Leone, wherein the chance of you being killed, injured or maimed in our streets is becoming increasingly likely. Every fatality or casualty on our streets/roads represents the loss of a father, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister or a dear relative/friend. For many, these road accidents have become a social and emotional disaster especially in circumstances where whole families have been thrown into poverty when a breadwinner is killed or maimed.
Global statistics on road accidents are staggering. According to a WHO report, ďevery year the lives of almost 1.24 million people are cut short as a result of road traffic crash. Between 20- 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries with many incurring a disability as a result of their injuriesĒ. The worrisome statistics pertaining to us is that a staggering 91% of the worldís fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the worldís vehicle. Put simply, the chance of¬†¬† you been involved in a road accident in Sierra Leone is about 30-40 times higher than in the U.S.A. and many countries in Western Europe despite the fact that we have far less vehicles on the roads. It is widely believed that road accidents are a serious economic drag that has the potential to bleed away up to 3% of a nationís GDP.¬†
For a country like ours that is still reliant on donor aid for budget support to stay afloat, we just canít expend that much of our national resources on traffic crashes and its attendant consequences. In a country where road transport accounts for over 80% of transportation of people and goods, the consequences of a dismal, haphazard and sub-optimal approach to managing and operating our roads would have a significant toll on the socio-economic lives of its people.
Even though we live in a culture that still erroneously holds the view that road crashes are ďacts of GodĒ, the truth is that most of them are largely predictable and preventable. However, looking at the prevailing operational conditions of our roads, one might be tempted to hold on to that cultural perspective regarding road crashes. Every road user in Freetown is far too familiar with the abysmally low levels of service that is now a prevalent characteristic of our cityís roads/street. The constant boorish bickering among road users has become a common refrain on our streets. I used to question my late father in my youthful innocence why he always has to yell and say a few unsavoury words at his fellow drivers and pedestrians/passengers. Now that Iím at the receiving end of being driven badly, I can fully understand why my father often times got so impatient to the point of uttering obscene languages. No wonder why most our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora could not dare drive on our streets when they come on vacation. The few of them who have the temerity to venture out with a vehicle on our roads will tell you of the nightmarish experiences they have had. The rampant and indiscriminate ďvuvuzelaĒ nature of the cacophony of car horns is enough to put them in frenzy. The number of traffic incidents on our roads is on the sharp increase as the number of conflict points increases in geometric proportions. This has lead to historic highs in the number of fatalities and injuries. A traffic ecosystem consists of complex interactions among different categories of road users i.e. drivers, pedestrians, passengers, the road and even animals.The introduction of commercial motor cycles have also exacerbated the situation and further compounded this complexity. This has resulted in a situation where the various entities within the road ecosystem are on a continuous collision course with each other.
The list of traffic violations on our roads/streets is endless. Few of these are highlighted below, which in the Authorís view are very critical:
ē Not enough road signs and road markings. It is quite evident that our roads/streets donít have enough signs and markings. The few that have had almost deteriorated beyond recognition to the road users. This is indicative of the lack of general maintenance on them. Some traffic signs and markings are so badly placed and designed that they are serving no purpose at all. Even basic speed limits signs are not posted on our roads, thus leaving motorists to second guess themselves as to what speed limits they should obey.Hence, the indiscriminate nature of poorly constructed speed bumps appearing on our roads, resulting in an unpleasant driving experience. Research shows that inadequate and poorly maintained road signs and markings are often cited as a significant contributing factor to road traffic incidents.
ē¬† Road Users not using designated facilities. This traffic violation is just far too prevalent on our roads.Countless number of times pedestrians have interrupted the Authorís ride pleading earnestly to cross the roadway when a zebra is just a few meters away. Motorists would drop off and pick up passengers randomly on the road when there are designated areas of the road to do that legally and safely, without affecting the stream of traffic flow. The new rehabilitated Wilkinson Road has a total of 17 lay-byes (places along the roadway where you can pick up and drop off passengers) and one will be surprised that drivers and pedestrians use them very sparingly.
ē¬† Licensed ďunprofessionalĒ drivers and registered unfit vehicles. They are registered, licensed and insured but the truth is these categories of drivers and vehicles have no business been on our roads/streets.They are simply a hazard to the entire road ecosystem. Vehicles that are literally death traps for passengers and are so incapacitated to the point that they canít even communicate with other vehicles are plying our roads with reckless abandon. Worse of these are the temporarily insane drivers that are continually wrecking untold harm on other road users.Their indiscipline, uncouth behavior and blatant disregard for basic traffic regulations are a continual annoyance to the many law-abiding road users. How could any sane driver use the opposing lane to avoid traffic congestion on his /her lane without the express permission of a traffic police or warden? This is more often the case in roads like Bai Bureh road, where commercial drivers and even drivers of Government vehicles are quick to jump to the opposing lane at the slightest hold up of traffic on their own lane. What they end up doing is to cause pandemonium and clog the entire roadway, thus creating unwarranted traffic congestion.
ē¬† Weak and disproportionate enforcement instruments. It is of no close secret that the way traffic regulations are been enforced in Sierra Leone is a complete mess. At this rate of enforcing traffic rules, we may be very far off from achieving any of the millennium milestones on road safety. In any society or community where law enforcement mechanisms/instruments are weak and ineffective, chaos and inappropriate behavior becomes the order of the day. Most of the penalties charge for traffic violations are not proportionate, and as such, do not serve as a sufficient deterrent to errant road users.The saying by motorists that they can hit a pedestrian and ended up paying a paltry fine of just Le 30,000 is a familiar refrain on our streets.
ē¬† Low levels of service. It is a fact that our roads/streets mostly those in the city no longer have the capacity to carry the expected traffic. Our city streets are so battered, worn-out and rugged in such a way that driving on them has become an enormous economic burden on ordinary road users in terms of increase travel time and vehicle operating cost. Little wonder okadas will continue to remain very popular amongst city dwellers despite the high cost and frequent spate of accidents associated with their use.Furthermore, we just have not made any advances in the way we manage traffic congestion especially at intersections. How many times have you pitied the poor and helpless traffic police and/or warden been overwhelmed at the various intersections around the city? The sheer number of vehicles on our city roads have made it humanly impossible to effect any reasonable control and order on these intersections during peak hour periods. They canít man these intersections during heavy rains thus leaving hapless motorists to find their way out of the ensuing melee. One wonders when the authorities would ever think of signalizing these intersections. If in the distance 1970s our streets can boast of traffic lights at intersections, it is comical and ironic that we donít have one now in the ďmodernĒ 21st century!
The authorities charged with the management and operations of our roads especially the Sierra Leone Roads Transport Authority (SLRTA) have to step up another gear and modernize its ďmodus operandiĒ if we are to succeed in combating the chaos that is now engulfing our roads.
We donít want our roads to become death traps to us, our children and to visitors. Countries that have made significant progress in road safety have adopted best practices, especially that promulgated by the principle of 3Es of Engineering, Education and Enforcement. The 3Es approach when fully implemented and adhered to, has brought about tremendous transformation in not only road safety but other areas like environmental protection. It is a 3-legged stool wherein any missing or deficient leg can lead to a sub-optimal system.Therefore, based on the principle of 3Es, the first and most critical aspect is the ďengineeringĒ of our roads.Engineering of our roads does not stop at the commissioning of the road but an ongoing process throughout the service life of the road. Traffic engineering, which is a branch of Ēcivil engineering that uses engineering techniques to achieve the safe, rapid, comfortable, convenient and efficient movement of people and goods on roadwaysĒ though relatively young in comparison with other established branches of civil engineering like structures and geotechnical, have made tremendous progress in bringing a more scientific approach to the way roads are been managed and operated. In the Authorís research, t was discovered SLRTA donít have even a civil engineer, not to mention a traffic engineer among its staff. On that note, one would like to ask the following pertinent technical questions:
ē¬† Who prepares the traffic management plan for the city of Freetown?
ē¬† Who does the recommendation as to where and when to place the various road signs and markings? (Highway engineers are responsible for ensuring correct standards of signing on roads; only they can erect traffic signs and markings or permit their erection)
ē¬† Who carries out the design of these road signs and markings?
ē¬† Who develops and conducts the training regime for traffic wardens?
ē¬† Who carries research for the authority on the types and causes of the various road crashes, on safe and efficient traffic flows, etc?
ē¬† Who coordinates on behalf of the authority with the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) to ensure adequate road safety measures are embedded throughout the design, construction and maintenance of our roads?
The views expressed here are those of the Author and not those of the Department of the Civil Engineering
¬© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.