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Road traffic accidents can be another epidemic in Sierra Leone

22 February 2017 at 11:04 | 1965 views

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By Sanpha Sesay, Special Correspondent, Texas.

Road traffic accidents are a major but neglected national health problem in Sierra Leone requiring concerted efforts for effective and sustainable prevention.

After the ten year senseless war followed by almost two years of the Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone is once again facing a carnage of traffic accidents that the nation does not seem to pay attention to.

2016 could be recorded as a year of massive loss of lives due to road traffic accidents across the country. How does the Sierra Leone Police force review and intervene and determine the causes of road accidents is my 50 billion Leones question.

Using a quantitative survey with repondents mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom, road traffic accidents is the number one cause of unnatural deaths today in Sierra Leone.

I discovered that the main causes of accidents in the country are due to several reasons that undermine the safety of people on our roads. On the basis of the investigation I made, I examine the social processes and dimensions embedded in road transport regulations and the broad spectrum of circumstances in which road accidents frequently occur.

Viewing the issues in the cities and Freetown the capital in particular, many drivers, approximately 20 to 35 % own their vehicles, therefore they tend to be more cautious, since they have a single vehicle on which their livelihood and personality depend. Hence they have to be careful with it. On the other hand, the majority of drivers on public transport fail to adhere to the driving standards of taking extreme caution; instead, they every time rush to get to a destination in order to make more money. Consequently hundreds of fatal accidents have occurred and many people have been left with physical and psycho-social disabilities.

Respondents in my interviews believe that the authorities in Sierra Leone pay little attention to the fact that there is no possibility to ensure conformity to road traffic safety according to the country’s safety requirements. Despite the fact that the rules and regulations for road traffic safety are in the books, yet most of those rules have never been implemented and enforced by the law enforcement agencies.

According to my findings,the high incidence of road accidents has been recorded in the last several years due to several factors. The most serious one is drunk driving that the police do not seem to pay attention to. They seem to have failed to understand and examine the influence of alcohol on drivers. They never do any driving under the influence of alcohol tests on drivers as is done in Western countries.

A drunk driver has the potential of losing the ability to focus and function properly and it is very dangerous when operating a vehicle on the highways and in the congested cities. It is sad to say that there is no mechanism to check especially public transport drivers who are operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs.

The driver’s personality or character is another serious factor. The majority of public transport drivers are uneducated and could not understand safety rules. An illiterate driver can easily bribe his way to obtain a driver’s license without taking exams for safety in Sierra Leone.

Bad roads and weather conditions are some of the factors observers highlighted in my survey. One of the driving regulations plainly states that the driver should reduce speed when adverse weather conditions are present and to cease operating the vehicle when those conditions are sufficiently dangerous to drive. Those are simple rules we respect in our various diaspora locations but most drivers in our country are at risk driving on the highways at high speed in inclement weather conditions when there is no way to read and understand road signs or the regulations. Several accidents have occurred during a heavy downpour of rain and in road curves.

Many drivers have lost control of their vehicles along dangerous curves and lost their lives with passengers in their vehicles in road accidents due to unlimited speed and lack of caution to avoid accidents. Drivers run the risk of losing control of their motor vehicles or blowing out a tire when they drive over potholes and "bump-gallops". In December 2015, holiday makers from the United States, one of whom I knew quite well, lost their lives at Magbalay Bridge due to a bump-gallop, sources say, although another source believes that it was due to the driver’s miscalculation while approaching the narrow bridge.

Speeding is another major factor as road speed exerts a significant influence on the risk of an accident and its severity. One Mr. Osman Bangura in London angrily stated that the government took a challenge to rebuild the roads to ensure quick and comfortable travel, but drivers’ abuse it by woefully speeding irresponsibly and now people see the roads as death traps.

Nowadays the number of vehicles in Siera Leone is extremely high and this number is increasing with every passing year; therefore drivers’ professionalism becomes the most significant factor. Only when drivers understand the importance of safety can it translate into their professional life. The Transport ministry and the Sierra Leone Police force should come together and try to address this social issue of road accidents. Drivers need to be able to read and write; at least they should be able to understand the consequences of traffic violations.

In the United States, each state institutes a defensive driving mechanism which is essentially for drivers who violate the traffic laws to take at least eight hours of classes and pay a fine. Every state utilizes these safe driving strategies to enable drivers to address identified hazards in a predictable manner. If our country implements a similar strategy by imposing heavy fines and prison terms on violators it will reduce the catastrophe of road traffic accidents.

The speed limit needs to be modified. 80 miles per hour is not recommended in our roads with just one lane up and one lane down. The government needs to understand the geographical variations in road traffic fatalities in country. It is a public health burden to most of us in the diaspora, this persistence of a high level of road accidents in our country.

Of all the issues that the government has to deal with on a daily basis, road transport fatalities is the most complex and most dangerous. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined an accident as “an unpremeditated event resulting in recognizable damage”.

If the government implements strategies and enforces the laws in a proper manner, the problem of road traffic accidents in Sierra Leone will be mitigated.

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