Safety on Nigerian roads: The change we need
THE Nigerian populace deserves a better deal in terms of ensuring safety of lives and property in the Highway Transportation System (HTS).
It is a truism that if we continue to do or recycle the same programmes and measures without the desired effect, we are not making progress.
The fact is that Nigeria’s rating in the world as regards to the number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from road crashes is still not enviable.
Nigeria is reputed to rank second, 191 out of 192 countries in the world with un-safe roads with a 162 death rate per 100,000 population from road traffic accident. In 2012, an average of 11 people were killed daily in road accidents across Nigeria according to the FRSC.
Given the contemporary challenges of accident record collection and analysis in our nation, I do not totally agree with the above data. Our accident / crash data collection methods need improvement and standardization in line with global practice.
The current crash data collection and analysis in the country falls woefully below internationally accepted modus. Our crash data are not location specific and lack some other required ingredients.
An example is lumping all crash data collected on the Lagos / Ibadan Expressway on Lagos State, rating states using accident / crash data without reference to vehicle population. This is abnormal and does not give opportunity for detecting black spots and putting in place corrective measures.
For Nigeria to get out of this unenviable position, Road Traffic Management of which Road Safety is a subset, must be approached differently in this era of Change. For the purpose of clarity, Nigeria deserves to have a Road Safety vision where it will become unacceptable for people to die or get seriously injured due to road traffic crashes / accidents.
In achieving this and reducing the expected Road Traffic casualties, all system designers, Engineers, Town planners, Law enforcement agencies, medical practitioners, fleet operators and others will have to key into this vision. This was achieved in the Republic of Sweden and she is still the best with enviable accident records all over the world.
The lead agency with the responsibility of ensuring proper traffic management and safety on our roads, need to be more empowered and refocused to break these new grounds in collaborating with states and other stakeholders.
The task of ensuring safer roads does not start and end on the patrols and enforcement on the highways.
This involves a holistic approach through Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Emergency Management, Encouragement, Engagement and Evaluation on a continuous basis.
This write-up will delve on some major gaps in the present operations and proffer measures to stem the current trend inroad traffic fatalities and injuries with the attendant wastages, resulting from road crashes.
Some of the components of the Road Safety Vision envisaged involve the compulsory participation of all the system designers mentioned above through a bill, which will be passed into law by the National Assembly to involve the lead agency in all matters concerning design and execution of all projects that will have impact on road transportation.
For example, at the conception of road projects, it will be desirable that safety audits are carried out before and after the execution.
From the benefit of hindsight, many lives have been lost and many people seriously injured due to failure or lack of proper traffic management controls and commitments by contractors handling major highways in Nigeria. The current trend on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway cannot be overemphasized for regular travellers on that highway like so many other projects including the Lokoja-Abuja highway under construction.
All over the world, the current trend is for road users, especially drivers, to be assisted in terms of road furniture and fittings, black spot treatment, provision of correct road information digitally and electronically in an interactive manner.
Today in our country, road users and most especially drivers, do not have respect or believe in such signs, as most of them do not represent current position on the highways. Imagine a road sign with the inscription ‘Slow Down, Men at work’ only for the drivers to get to the portion and discover that the road had been completed months back.
Contractors, when compelled to buy into road safety vision, must be proactive and act in the line of safety or else be prosecuted. Traffic management/ safety and other law enforcement agencies ought to remove such misleading information if they are keyed into the Road Safety Vision. Currently, those that are supposed to do this, merely pass through them without any action.
When road signs become interactive and represent the true position of things, they will command respect, obedience and compliance.
The envisaged Road Safety Vision will also address the issue of the vehicles plying our highways; specifications of vehicles to be used on our highways should be the type that will ensure safety of lives and property.
The current trend where Right Hand Steering Vehicles (RHSV) are still allowed to enter the country through our ports after decades of banning is not acceptable.
The Custom and Excise Department, the Nigerian ports Authority are all parts of the critical stakeholders in the development and implementation of the Road Safety Vision.
It is also worthy of note that Road Worthiness of vehicles are currently tied to revenue in Nigeria. This just requires drivers to show revenue receipts. They are then left off the hook even though the vehicle is driven with worn out tires, broken chassis, bad center bolts with vehicle body tilting at a dangerous angle. This is simply a crash waiting to happen.
Emergency management, rescue and prompt removal of obstacles, broken down and crashed vehicles on all major highways, is a key factor in the envisaged Road Safety Vision.
It is true that government alone cannot provide the equipment and facilities for the storage of such vehicles that constitute very serious hazards on our roads, the lead agency can, of course, engage and encourage private participation in the establishment and management of Help Centers on all Nigerian Highways; empower them to provide services for, rest areas, vehicle repair facilities, vehicle towing facilities, medical centers for crash victims and warehouse for broken down or abandoned vehicles, among others. This will create a lot of employments for our teaming masses of the unemployed.
Improved enforcement strategies are required to stem the tide of road crashes many of which result from impunity, carelessness, blatant disregard of safety rules and regulations, incompetence and outright ignorance.
The vehicle registration database should move towards electronic enforcement that will stop the current hot chase and inability to apprehend violators.
I have seen officers of safety agencies, watch with helplessness, their inability to apprehend certain categories of traffic violators on the highways such as siren blowing group driving against traffic, knocking down innocent citizens and forcing other vehicles off their tracks into the bush on the pretense that they are not armed.
I am not an advocate of arming traffic / safety officers but I am aware that such cases could be handled through proper documentation of incidents and photography, communication and warnings to affected departments which I am sure, are headed by responsible and honorable Nigerians for action, and when this fails, such organizations and departments can be thrown into the court of public opinion through publications and programmes on the electronic media.
The truth now, is the fact the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari has promised to obey traffic rules and regulation and lead by example.
To achieve the above, there is the need for human capacity development of Traffic and Safety Law Enforcement officers, Accident Investigation and reconstruction, with punishment and penalties imposed on owners as well as drivers.
In addition there must be Driver Training and Re-Training as well as Improved Insurance policy that will deter the current impunity towards victims and obedience to road safety rules and regulations.
Oyedokun is a pioneer member Federal Road Safety Commission, General Manager Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, and currently Pioneer Chief Executive Officer, Lagos State Drivers’ Institute.