It’s December, the season of the so-called “ember months” in Nigeria when road traffic accidents (RTAs) seem to occur with increased frequency. Nigerians have often put forward various reasons for the death toll on the roads during this season (from the presence of “blood-sucking witches on the roads” to other less exotic reasons like the increased number of road users during the festive season), it is perhaps fitting that we focus on the question of road traffic accidents. These are an important preventable cause of death and disability in Nigeria, and most Nigerians have lost friends and family to road traffic accidents. Only recently, a prominent political leader, Chief SB Awoniyi died following injuries sustained in a road traffic accident.
There are of course many facets to the problem of road traffic accidents, from the poor condition of the roads to unsafe driving practices (including the daredevil antics of the okada motorcyclists) to the absence of ambulance services and trauma units. Some of the reasons identified for the rising rate of deaths include the increasing numbers of vehicles on the roads, poor enforcement of traffic safety regulation (including roadworthiness tests and driver licensing) and poor health infrastructure.
I can’t help but marvel at the fact that alcoholic drinks are sold openly and copiously in the motor parks, and that many of the commercial drivers spend their time while waiting for passengers in the various bars that dot these motor parks. And often the passengers collude in their lives being put at risk by either ignoring the state of the driver, or making ineffectual pleas for the driver “to take it easy” Similarly, the average Nigerian non-commercial driver thinks nothing of taking to the road after downing several bottles of beer or stout or whatever the favoured alcoholic beverage is. Think of how many accidents occur in the night on the way back from parties and other social gatherings.
Similarly, it is shocking that motorcyclists and their passengers are not made to wear protective helmets which would protect them against head injuries.
Poor planning of roads without provision for pedestrian crossings, and overhead pedestrian bridges is another problem and where they exist, are often ignored by pedestrians.
Enforcement of existing laws and changing behaviour must be at the heart of making any progress in this area- making it clear that by drinking and then driving people put their lives and those of other road users at risk, introducing breathalyser tests for drivers leaving motor parks, scrapping the sale of alcoholic drinks in motor parks, insisting on the use of helmets for motorcyclists, enforcing speed limits and raising public awareness of the problem.
The Federal Road Safety Commission has launched an awareness campaign for the “ember months” and SAVAN ,Lifeline, and Road Safety Nigeria are some of the organizations working in this area but there needs to be a sustained and coordinated effort including the Federal Ministries of Health, Works and Transport as well as the Federal Road Safety Commission
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead