Ho, Aug. 22, GNA - I could not ignore the noise from Olu Mike’s compound. The vibrations in his eldest son, George’s voice, intermittently hit my roof compelling me to say the Lord’s Prayer repeatedly with difficulty.
I quickly dashed to the gated house with my heart in my mouth not sure of what was happening in the house this time around.
Soon, I got to know it was nothing new. It was the same old story. The two sons of Olu Mike desperately wanted the “Oldman”, as we all call him to take them home to their hometown, on the Ho-Denu Highway.
The young men, aged 32 and 30 have never been to their hometown and insisted the old man did them that honour before he passes on.
Realising the consistent resistance of their father to take them to the small settler community down South in the Volta Region, the boys raised hell that sunny Sunday.
They simply would not accept Olu Mike’s excuse that his greatest fear in life has been to travel on the Ho-Denu Highway.
All his life, he had been to his ‘‘holy’’ village four times and was involved in road crashes on three of those four occasions.
The last time he went home was during his Uncle’s funeral five years ago. While returning from the funeral, the passenger bus in which he was travelling skidded off the road into a ditch killing three persons on the spot.
“It was a bloodbath. A middle-aged woman close to me had her intestines gushing out and died painfully. I survived with a spinal problem,” Olu Mike confided in me and broke down in tears.
He also recounted how his younger brother was knocked down several years ago while trying to cross the main road that divides the village into two.
I understood Olu Mike’s concerns too well, having witnessed and reported on similar road crashes across the Volta Region.
I paused for a while and pleaded with George and Dan to suspend the issue and desist from reminding their father of those traumatic experiences at least for now.
It is pathetic to note that irrespective of several interventions by the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) and other stakeholders, about 1,800 people die annually in Ghana through road traffic crashes.
A total of 60 per cent of the crashes are caused by speeding, with bus and mini buses accounting for 35 per cent of fatal crashes and 42 per cent of fatalities involving pedestrians.
Volta Region recorded the third least road crash cases in 2011 and unfortunately, rural communities like that of Olu Mike recorded the most serious of those fatal crashes.
A total of 83 persons were knocked down by vehicles with Keta Municipal recording the most serious knockdown cases in 32 crashes, according to Mr Sebastian Akyeampong, Volta Regional Manager of the NRSC.
The “Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2012,” says that nearly, 1.3 million people die as a result of road traffic collision and more than 3,000 deaths a day worldwide.
It is said between 20 and 50 million more people sustain serious injuries from those collisions resulting in physical disability.
In Ghana generally, road crashes have become serious nightmares to many, especially the NRSC in view of the increase in road crash cases despite concerted efforts at reducing the trend.
The fear expressed by Olu Mike is common in many homes making pocket-size Bibles and other spiritual books important 'travelling companions’ for many.
Others pray more than 10 times before setting off on their journeys celebrating their safe arrivals with the sign of the cross and short prayers.
For many women, they announce their safe arrival by shouting to call their children to come and help them with their luggage home.
In fact the shouts are mainly to draw people’s attention that they are back safely.
The causes of road crashes are well known and have been explored extensively but it appears a common denominator to the causes is attitudinal. With the right kind of attitude by all, mechanical, technical and human causes of road crashes would no longer be a major challenge.
The “Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2012”, again, says that unless immediate and effective action was taken, road traffic injuries could become the fifth leading cause of death in the world, resulting in an estimated 2.4 million deaths each year.
One immediate and effective action African countries, especially Ghana, must take to be within the ‘Global Plan for the Decade of Action’ is to ensure adequate investment in the public transport system.
Safe and Efficient Public Transport :
Though Ghana is among the fastest urbanizing countries in Africa, the country’s road network is designed exclusively for private cars with little provision for non-motor and public transport, with only few public transport or bus lanes.
City developers and planners largely fail to integrate urban mobility into planning cities and land use. For instance, many settlements are not planned sustainably to allow for free movement of people and goods, and there is no enough road space for all classes of users.
Roads are basically constructed without considering who is travelling where, how, when, and how travellers respond to sets of changes in speed, reliability, convenience and comfort.
It is for these reasons that government and other stakeholders need to invest in a sustainable urban transport system to reduce road crashes, improve air quality and enhance socio-economic activities.
They must incorporate urban public transport systems into city planning and set targets for improved road safety, reduction in noise and traffic levels. Carpooling, public transport use, cycling and walking must also be encouraged.
The introduction of road pricing, area licensing, vehicle ownership charges, parking charges, public transport subsidies and giving of priority to pedestrians and bicycle riding by local government authorities would also help resolve the situation.
Another major challenge is speeding. According to the NRSC, speeding accounts for about 60 per cent of all road crashes.
If speed is limited, or managed according to recommendations, bad roads and potholes may not be big issues.
While it is true that some drivers intentionally ignore speed limits, others basically do not know that speed limit on motorways is 100km/h, highways 90km/h, built up areas 50km/h and 30km/h for roads within areas where human activity is predominant such as markets and schools.
The introduction of Speed Enforcement Cameras (SEC) has therefore become necessary to complement the efforts of the police to reduce speed and the severity of speed related crashes in the country.
It is high time the NRSC and its collaborators continued to champion best road safety practices for all road users and uphold the five pillars of ensuring road safety management, namely safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles on roads, safer road users and effective post-crash response.
The Commission must also conduct annual road audit especially on roads that pass through communities, to draw the attention of the authorities to sections that need to be worked on to grant adequate protection to the vulnerable road user.
Ghana must judiciously implement action plans in the Global Plan for the Decade 2011-2012, using its well developed national strategies to make progress through the decade as the beacon of hope for Africa.
Generally, the NRSC is doing quite well in road safety education, monitoring, evaluation and especially prompting the public on safety issues ahead of festivities and political rallies but it needs to bring law enforcers on board. They must be re-oriented and made aware that the success of road safety campaigns begins and ends with them as enforcers of the law.
That way, road crashes would be reduced drastically in the country with renewed hope and confidence in the road transport system, so individuals like Olu Mike can visit their hometowns regularly without the fear of losing their lives in a road crash.