CAMPAIGN FOR SAFER ROADS : The ‘Culture’ You Come from Can Radically Affect Your Safety on the road

Introduction and Background

In 2007, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety published an excellent book which since then has been one of our keys “go to” resources for valuable information. Its title was: Improving Traffic Safety Culture in the United States — The Journey Forward

There can be no doubt whatsoever that geographical, political, socio-economic and — importantly — workplace aspects of culture have a major influence on road safety, and this can be seen not only from one country to another but often from region to region within a country. Equally, there can be no doubt that traffic safety interventions which fail to consider and adapt to relevant aspects of local cultures are commonly doomed to failure.

Traffic safety culture affects many aspects of highway safety, including road users’ attitudes to various unsafe or illegal actions.

A much more general but still relevant review of the overall subject has just been published (August 2018) under the title: Culture may affect the way your brain processes everything. Here’s why that’s important, by Dr Belinda Liddell. Of particular interest, and something which significantly affects road safety, is an explanation of the difference in attitudes between Western countries and MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) countries.

At Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc., this is an aspect of our work that we have always taken very seriously indeed and we have always been strongly guided by our extensive library and the research literature available to us, as well as authoring academic-peer-reviewed research papers ourselves, through bodies such as the Society of Automotive Engineers and the International Road Federation.

Findings of this study are relevant to the behaviour of drivers of public/private vehicles; kekeh/okada riders and indeed some of our government Ministers and State officials.

The Okada Menace

In August 2018, I published an article in the Sierra Leone online Newspaper, the Telegraph about the behaviour of Okada Riders in Freetown This was following a Parliamentary Inquiry on the problems of enforcing traffic laws with particular focus on Okada Riders.

There is provision in the Road Traffic Act 2007 for the issuance of licence for motorcycle riders, but the Act does not state the nature of examination for obtaining such a licence and, or the procedure for testing a commercial motorbike rider.

There is also the urgent need to review the rules of the road and related enforcement measures that will eventually lead to the production of a Highway Code, forming the basis for the future development of the curricula for testing drivers and motorcycle riders.

Unless and until the law in the form of the 2007 Traffic Act was reviewed and updated, it is unlikely that the various enforcement authorities will be able to manage the current traffic lawlessness and high rates of accidents in Freetown and indeed Sierra Leone.

The ‘okada’ riders on the other hand, have argued that they are providing a service that is desperately needed by the public, due to the lack of a decent and sustainable transport system, while at the same time creating employment of jobless youths.
They also claim that they have introduced a system of self – regulation by having their own marshals to regulate the conduct of their members.

Self-regulation opens a whole can of worms, because if all professions, for example; doctors, engineers and architects were allowed to regulate themselves, the outcome will be devastating for the country and its citizens.

The Riders Association also mentioned that, problem riders are those who operate bikes owned by police officers who are regarded as ‘untouchables’. The solution to this problem is simple. Police officers should be barred from owning commercial motorcycles.

Drivers of Government Vehicles/Ministers

There was a debate on social media about the Minister of Information obeying traffic laws by refusing to use emergency procedure by traffic against the flow of traffic. The incident was reported by Umaru Fofanah, the BBC stringer in Freetown. Many commended him for his action but others were not impressed because they were of the view that it should be norm.

The President had also issued an Executive order that Ministers, State Officials and Public Servants should obey traffic rules and regulation regardless of the nature of the emergency. Critics opined it should not take a Presidential Order for these officials to obey traffic rules and regulations. However, in a country were every government official had in the past disobeyed traffic rules the Minister of Information’s behaviour was an oddity. As the saying goes ‘a fish starts getting rotten from the head’ and until these officials realize that no one his above the law then the rest of the road users will obey existing traffic rules and regulations.

Wedding Convoys

Another abnormal behaviour is that of people who have decided to tie the knot especially at weekends. They normally use vehicles rented from car ponds that are on sale. These vehicles are neither licensed nor insured and the occupants including children are travelling on these vehicles without seat belts or at times standing inside the vehicle with the roof tops open. Most times they are in a hurry to go to the church/mosque and the wedding reception venue. In some instance they even rent sweeper vehicles from the police and believe that they are entitled to drive against the traffic blaring car horns and playing loud music which in itself is a form of environment pollution. The question is why should someone be in a hurry to make a life time commitment and subject other road users to danger.

Street Traders and Beggars

Whenever there is a traffic jam, it creates the opportunity for hawkers of all types of goods to walk careless on the road with their wares trying to make a living. The fault lies with both the traders and the car occupants who encourage them by acting as mobile customers. Such behaviours can only be averted through education and awareness. They also compete with beggars accompanied by people pushing make shift wheelchairs or a mother renting a baby pretending to be destitute. Another example of the dependency culture and people trying to exploit others by pretending to be victims of a society that does not provide for the needy/vulnerable population. They a danger to themselves and other road users.

A New Direction
The urge to travel and drive safely must come from within. Safety should be the responsibility of every motorist and passenger. The law can act as a deterrent and hold serial offenders accountable, but in the end, we, as a community, must be responsible for our own welfare.

The argument that there are not enough police patrols to enforce the law is flawed and ironic. Why should a police force have to be present in big numbers to ensure that a motorist, an adult, cares for his own safety and that of his passengers? Holding a driving licence means the person is a responsible adult. Accidents can happen, but having scant regard for safety is unacceptable.

The law highlights that an errant motorist must not hold a licence because he is a threat to himself and others on the road. Not wearing seatbelts, speeding, tailgating, swerving in and out of lanes are dangerous offences that can lead to fatalities. Many drivers even stop midway to take a closer look at an accident, but as they pull away, they drive recklessly. If the sight of tragedy and destruction does not drill sense into them, then harsh laws are essential to maintain road safety.

In conclusion, the transport system in Sierra Leone needs a complete overhaul. The authorities must take full control of all matters relating to the planning, regulating and managing the entire road transport system.

Adam Smith International provided support to the government of Sierra Leone to deliver both a national urban transport policy and an action plan to improve urban mobility in Freetown. Funded by the World Bank, the six-month Sierra Leone Urban Transport project delivered a prioritised list of infrastructure investments to improve urban mobility to the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. These investments included building new infrastructure, refurbishing existing infrastructure, improving works currently underway to improve roads in Freetown, measuring to address the sustainability of the current infrastructure, and operations and maintenance considerations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing infrastructure.

For this vision to become a reality it must be done in partnership with the private sector and public interest groups – such as the Passenger Welfare Association, and the Drivers and Commercial Bike Operators Unions.

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