Africa · Ghana · Musings · Opinion · Uncategorized

Ghanaian Roads: A Daily Course On Survival

My life is in danger. It’s a scary thing to not only find out but to process and accept. Its even scarier to think that despite my best efforts I may not be able to protect myself.
I don’t feel safe walking down a street. I look around me every time I’m out but the assassin could be anybody. They could be black, white, male, female, even a kid.

But I’m not alone. You are also in danger. That assassin is not only out for me, he’s out for you and every other pedestrian who walks along or crosses any road in Ghana. Yes, you and I are in danger and the assassin is anybody and everybody who thinks using a vehicle makes them invincible on our roads.

The state of driving on our roads is discouraging. Drivers drive above the speed limits on roads in the city and only slow down, reluctantly, when they see a red traffic light. In some parts of the country where traffic jams are rampant, like the capital, Accra, drivers are eager to beat the traffic lights and routinely flout traffic rules in order to cut down transit time.

The lack of zebra crossings and overhead walkways are a serious issue on some of the major roads. This, coupled with malfunctioning or nonexistent traffic lights, has led to pedestrians and drivers engaging in an unofficial ten metre dash. It is not uncommon to see people: children, adults, male female, old and young, taking their chances by crossing a very busy, running across for dear lives while a speeding maniac makes no attempt to stop. Its particularly saddening when its the elderly or school children who have to resort to this risky measure.

But its one thing risking your life by running across a major road and another to to be safely ensconced on the right path and still be scared for your life. At places like Madina, drivers routinely use pedestrian paths and even have the effrontery to shout, honk or throw an insult at any pedestrian who isn’t quick enough to get out of their way.

This lawlessness and disregard for human life is not only prevalent in the big cities. In smaller villages where the use of motor bikes is more common, bike riders endanger their lives and innocent passengers and passersby with the speed at which they travel. Most completely disregard traffic rules, have no helmets and no driving licenses. This is borne out by the relative young ages of some of the riders. Most do not look old enough to handle a racing bicycle let alone a motor bike. They also routinely carry more than the required number of people and in some cases even go as far as transporting goods and livestock with the bikes.

If the June 3rd disaster at circle has taught us one thing, its the importance of taking precautions. Precautions like switching off engines while refuelling and putting phones off. Some petrol stations have notices informing customers to switch off their engines before refueling but attendants at these stations still serve customers whose engines are on. Some attendants even go so far as to place their phones on the fuel dispenser while drivers, driver’s mates and some passengers are quick to shut down anyone who expresses any dislike to the flaunting of these precautionary measures. Of course, there has never been a case of an engine or a phone triggering an explosion at a filling station in Ghana but do we want to wait till one occurs before we start to understand the importance of these measures?

I an tired of being scared. Of looking wildly around me whenever I walk by a road and imagining all the various ways I could die. The construction of overhead walkways in some parts of Accra even though long overdue must be lauded. However, a lot more still needs to be done. The present government likes to point to the number of roads it has constructed. Maybe it needs to take more cognizance of the needs of pedestrians too.

Increase in police presence on some of our major roads could also help reduce the indiscipline displayed by road users. It would also help if the police officers remember they are not just present to direct traffic but to also ensure proper road use.

After the June 3rd disasters, the National Petroleum Authority published safety regulations for petrol stations in the national dailies. This initiative should be continued and developed. Petrol Stations should not be given work permits until they display proof of their willingness to comply with the safety regulations.

However, nothing would make me feel safer than a general acknowledgement by every road user of the need to follow road rules and regulations and for us to remember that at the end of the day, that meeting you desperately need to attend or that purchase you need to make or that sale you need to conclude is not worth a human life.
~ Senam

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