A patient undergoing an eye test
The Federal Road Safety Commission’s (FRSC) plan to reduce road accidents by providing free mandatory eye test to drivers, may suffer a ditch like the cost of treatment or even legality of barring those with defect which could frustrate the potential gains of the eye test, writes Chiemelie Ezeobi
As usual, the sun rose from the East and cast the streets of Lagos in a golden hue with its characteristics harsh weather accompanied by the stinging rays of the sun. Not surprisingly, the hot weather seemed to have affected motorists alike with impatience as they all struggled for the right of way to leave the canopy of the scorching sun.
Suddenly, the ambience of the busy afternoon was shattered by a screeching sound accompanied by a loud thud. A 46-seater- commercial bus had rammed into a Toyota Camry Saloon Car.
At first, many thought the gory and grisly scene was not real. And no, it was not the scene of a badly prepared Nollywood script either. The accident scene was as real as it could ever get.
While passersby were still trying to wrap their minds around the somewhat unreal incident, scraps of the dismembered bodies littered the streets, the collective pool of blood from the accident victims ran from all angles until it congealed at a spot.
Rescue efforts which kicked off rather late could only rescue five persons from the carnage including the driver of the ill-fated vehicle. Preliminary investigations into the cause of the accident revealed the driver had an eye defect, which made him not see the oncoming car until it was rather late.
The eyes are often described as the window to the soul. This statement is not far from the truth as the eyes tell a story of its own, often depicting the state of one’s mood; either in a weepy, sad, angry or happy state. This is the story across Nigeria as commuter bus driver wheeled out on the road to ferry their passengers. Indeed, there are drivers in Nigeria who have lost an eye and still have drivers’ license. They drift out of their lanes unconsciously and blindly search for the gear away from the component of the gear-box.
But this, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), says must be checked to save lives. It commenced a mandatory nationwide automated free eye test for driver’s license applicants at over 50 processing centers, spread across the country.
The Free eye mandatory test, according to the FRSC, was designed to give room for on-the-spot vision/screening examination.
The test is also expected to sight correction among drivers as parts of the Corps’ strategies towards road accident reduction in Nigeria.
Giving reasons for its resolve to take safety on the roads up another notch, FRSC in a recent publication said the incessant loss of lives on the roads is preventable.
Corroborating the need for the eye test, the FRSC Public Education Officer, Mr. Jonas Agwu, stressed that the test is part of the efforts to enhance the safety of road users and reduce accidents.
He said, “The mandatory eye test was designed to give room for on-the-spot vision and screening and sight correction among drivers as part of strategies to reduce road accidents. The test is imperative as “visibility is one of the important ingredients for safety’’.
Advancing reasons for the choice of the Optec 1000 Vision testing machine for the mandatory test, Agwu noted that one of the unique advantages of the machine is its ability to detect if someone can recognise colours.
“Also the machine detects side views including visual field and has come to replace the manual chart which was previously used but could only discover short and long sightedness of drivers,” he confirmed.
The mandatory eye test may be a big deal to FRSC to salvage carnage on Nigerian roads, but analysts say it’s a gamble on the part of the Commission. They argued that such campaign should have been backed by law.
Faliu Junaid, a Nigerian who lived in London said, “I can tell you that this is a good move for the first time to stem the tide of road accidents in Nigeria, but compliance will be low since there is no law requiring that a driver must not drive with defective eye.”
In the United Kingdom, it is a criminal offence for any individual with current driving licence with sight impairment which makes it dangerous for the person to drive a vehicle without notifying the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.
In the current FRSC code there is no reference to defective eyes as part of possible road safety offence listed.
Contrary to claims that the tests is meant only for commercial drivers, THISDAY reliably gathered that it is meant for all motorists that drive.
A visit to the FRSC Headquarters in Ojodu-Berger where a test center is opened however shows lack of commitment on the part of FRSC as the optometrist company in charge of the contract was conspicuously absent.
THISDAY investigation further shows that Exxelli Vision Eye Clinic Limited located in Ojodu-Berger is the company engaged to conduct the eye test, but only their equipment was available at the test centre without personnel.
On inquiry, THISDAY was made to know that those responsible for the test had not been available for days. Speaking on conditions of anonymity, an FRSC official who was quite helpful said the test was usually held daily but that recently, the eye clinic personnel had not shown up.
THISDAY attempted to reach Exxelli Vision Eye Clinic Limited through phone numbers provided on a brochure of their company, but all telephone lines were blocked. Although THISDAY gathered that quite a number of motorists had successfully conducted the test.
THISDAY sampled the opinion of some commercial drivers in Lagos and they had a lot to say about the test. For Kpokobiri, a commercial driver who ply the Ikotun- Cele route, the test was a good initiative but he rued the fact that the test was conducted in only place in Lagos.
He said, “I quite agree that bad eyesight can cause accidents. I used to have an eye defect until it was corrected. My challenge then was driving in the night. I was losing control once an oncoming car comes closer with their headlights.
“At a time, I stopped driving in the night, but it was painful because it is at night that we make the most money. I had no choice but to go for treatment. It’s not as if my eye sight is perfect now but it is lots better.”
On whether he had gone for the recent eye test he replied in the affirmative but added that it took him the better part of the day. “I first went to the Isolo office of the FRSC only to be told that I should go to the headquarters at Ojodu-Berger.
“If it’s possible, they should put out these centers in their different units. It would help us have access and encourage other drivers to go for the test as well. I know my colleagues. I am sure they have calculated the hours they will lose if they go and queue up for the eye test.”
Another driver who admitted that he hadn’t gone for the test ironically also commended the test. He said, “This is a very good thing. He however said he failed to see how the initiative would succeed since most drivers do not like wearing prescription glasses to drive. I know people who are drivers that have defect. Some have blurred vision or cannot drive in the night but rather than go for treatment, they prefer to manage it.”
In an interview with THISDAY, Isolo Unit Commander, AbayomiAdegbesan, said the eye test is encapsulated as a compulsory level to go through when acquiring the new driver’s license.
He said, “A lot of the drivers find it difficult to see far distance. We talk about road signs, but how many of them can see and even if they can, how many can interpret? That is why the idea of an eye test came up. We are not saying drivers should not use eyeglasses; they are encouraged to, so as to correct their eye defect, ut what we are against is driving with black shades.”
While admitting that the rays of the sun might be too much for motorists, he was however quick to point out that every car has a foldable protective shade that limits the amount of sun light that filters into it.
After the tests, he said drivers are told their status, so that treatment would commence immediately. “We let them know their status and advise them to go to the optician to correct their vision,” he said.
FRSC clearly placed the burden of cost for the corrective surgery on any driver who has defective eye saying despite the financial difficulties people might face in undergoing corrective surgeries or treatment; it is for the best since it involves life.
Adegbesan said, “They are not doing themselves any good by driving with bad eyesight. They are only endangering their lives as well as those of other road users. A mistake could lead to a dastardly accident that would claims lives.
“Although some states have taken up the gauntlet to help the drivers to correct their eyesight, we still appeal to road users to try and take care of their eyes. As a matter of fact, any one with bad eyesight should stay clear the road.”
It however remains to be seen on what follow-up measures the FRSC has put in place to ensure that those with eye defects go for treatment.
When THISDAY contacted, He says, “if anyone is caught, we simply advice him or her to go for eye test, we cannot impound the vehicle”
However, the Lagos State Government is worried about increased cases of crashes, most especially the ones involving commercial bus drivers, and it has introduced in its motor parks across the state an initiative tagged: Motor Parks Health and Safety Initiative, which creates awareness about negative effects of alcohol and drugs on safe driving.
At a joint briefing on Tuesday, September 25, by commissioners for Health and Transportation, Dr. Jide Idris and Mr. Kayode Opeifa, respectively, they agreed that it was time something concrete was done about the menace of drunk driving.
Recently, the state government administered breathalyzers on 2,500 commercial drivers to check alcoholic content in their system.
Idris said, “We screened 2,002 drivers and obtained the following results: 781 were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol; 601 were found to be hypertensive; 441 were positive to psychotropic drugs, especially cocaine and marijuana; 940 were screened for visual impairment; and 13 per cent had to be given special glasses.”
The commissioner said the result made the government to increase its enlightenment campaign and also invoke Section 21(1) of the state traffic law which prescribes, on conviction, a fine of N100,000 or two-year imprisonment or both for offenders.
As for the FRSC eye test, a motorist who identified himself as Mr. Lawrence Epuechi, said , “as laudable as the free eye test initiative is, the only problem I see is the fact that one is expected to pay for treatment. How can a poor driver who can barely afford to feed, be able to pay for his eye treatment?”