Breathalyzers: Enthroning Safer Road Culture in Nigeria

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As the countdown to the ember months begin, Chika Amanze-Nwachuku underscores the need for enforcement of the use of Breathalyzers, a transportable hand-held device endorsed by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the National Automotive Design and Development Council that detects when a driver exceeds the legal drinking limit

The ember months are the last four months in the calendar year. They are the months of September, October, November and December.

The ember months are characterised by high social and economic activities. During this period, there are heavy vehicular movements on the roads due to high market rush for business men and women. This informed why the period records highest incidents of vehicular accidents.

The countdown to the end of 2016 has begun in earnest, heralding the end of another eventful year for Nigeria. For obvious reasons, the economy dominated public discourse as the country battled the aftermath of dipping revenue occasioned by plummeting global oil prices. Every facet of life was impacted as a result. Nonetheless, typical of the year-end, activities are expected to heighten, hitting a crescendo in December when the festive season takes full hold.

At this time, economic worries seem to become of secondary concern as weddings, parties, child naming, house warming, cultural festivals and other social engagements dominate the scene. In its wake, people will log thousands of kilometers crisscrossing the country to seek well-deserved rest in villages and semi-urban areas, with the attendant reunions and festivities that the season presents.

Whether personnel of the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) get a break during the ‘ember months’, as the months leading to the festive end of the year are popularly called, is debatable. The ember months have a history of recording disproportionately high rate of road traffic accidents in Nigeria, wreaking colossal havoc on individuals and the nation. According to available records, over 1.2 million lives are lost globally on an annual basis due to road traffic injuries, apart from the huge impact on health and economic development.

A study jointly conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank and Harvard University predicted that road crashes would become the third leading cause of death and disability by 2020. Nigeria was credited with having the second highest rate of road accidents among 193 countries, according to another study. The FRSC, in a six-month study, stated that an estimated 1,000 people died in road accidents, with 65 percent of these resulting from over-speeding.

Such dire statistics have consistently given the nation’s road managers sleepless nights over years. With another season just around the corner again, FRSC’s Corps Marshal, Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi, and his team are already marshalling strategies to deal with contingencies during the period.

Speed Limiters

One initiative that is expected to go into effect very soon is the use of the speed limiter. The device, adopted after a rigorous process that included input by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the National Automotive Design and Development Council and promulgation into law, determines how fast a vehicle can move. As soon as the preprogrammed speed limit is reached, the in-built computer system curbs the flow of air and fuel into the engine, forcing the vehicle to eventually come to a halt.

According to Oyeyemi, enforcement of the speed limiters on commercial vehicles will commence nationwide on October1, 201 6. The approach, he said, would be total and hardnosed, while appealing to all road users to observe all traffic rules while driving.

Breathalyzers: Enthroning Safer Road Culture in Nigeria

Another initiative, which enforcement will be intensified during the ember months is the use of Breathalyzers, a transportable hand-held device that determines the quantity of alcohol in a person. It was launched in Nigeria last year. Because Breathalyzers appraise the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) through breathing, they help to detect when a driver has exceeded the legal drinking limit, a condition that is inimical to safety on roads. In Nigeria, the legal alcohol limit is 0.05 percent, but hardly do drivers conform to the limit because there is deliberate revulsion at being seen as drunk. Others also feel that alcohol intake does not affect their mental wellbeing and capacity to drive safely.

Last year, brewing giant, Guinness Nigeria Plc, donated Breathalyzers to FRSC as part of its responsible drinking initiative, a project it had over the years undertook in collaboration with the road safety agency.

At the formal donation in Lagos, Peter Ndegwa, Chief Executive Officer, Guinness Nigeria, said the company, a subsidiary of Diageo Plc, takes the issue of responsible alcohol consumption seriously and would do everything necessary to enlighten the public on the imperative of responsible drinking. “At Guinness Nigeria, we believe that our position as a market leader places a significant responsibility on us to raise awareness about the importance of consuming alcohol responsibly,” Ndegwa said.

Referring to the firm’s annual ember months campaign, Ndegwa stated, “We are passionately committed to responsible drinking and enlightening the public about the value of responsible alcohol consumption, especially during the festive period. We are eager to create increased awareness to ensure that Nigerians have an incident-free experience. Working in tandem with our various stakeholders on our responsible drinking initiatives, we have found a worthy partner in the FRSC, with whom on an annual basis we have carried out this Ember Months campaign.”

In a passionate appeal, Ndegwa reiterated to everyone, be they consumers, motorists and the general public that drinking and driving do not mix: “When you drink, don’t drive. When you go out in a group to have fun, designate someone to drive and that person should not drink. If you are going out alone, arrange for a taxi to take you home after you have had some drink. Whatever you do this season, don’t drink and drive”.

The Guinness chief disclosed that more employees of the company are being encouraged to join the FRSC Special Marshals in order to support efforts aimed at road safety in the country, adding that “these inspiring Guinness Nigeria employees are an embodiment of what the organization and especially this partnership is all about – service for the greater good.”

“Don’t Drink and Drive” Campaign

Other initiatives aimed at demonstrating the company’s commitment to the promotion of responsible consumption of alcohol, include the various Responsible Drinking programmes, such as the “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign; an alcohol education programme targeted at commercial drivers to engender attitudinal and behavioural change; DRINKIQ, an alcohol education platform that engages stakeholders to make responsible choices about drinking and the Age Verification Initiative, which ensures that alcohol is not sold to minors or persons under the legal purchase age thereby reducing the harmful effects of underage drinking.

The Corporate Relations Director, Guinness Nigeria, Sesan Sobowale stated: “We are proud of the approach we have taken, over decades, to promote responsible alcohol consumption and help tackle harmful drinking. As part of our ambition to be leaders in addressing alcohol in society, we have set ourselves goals beyond our industry-wide commitments in our 2020 Sustainability and Responsibility targets for alcohol.”

On his part, the Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Commission, Mr. Hyginius Omeje, noted that through diligent enforcement, the Breathalyzers have helped in stemming carnage on Nigerian roads. He urged motorists to avoid driving under the influence of alcohol as well as obey traffic laws and regulations.

“Before now, all we had done in terms of enforcement have been based on sobriety tests which can’t be used to prosecute offenders successfully. However, with the kind donation of Breathalyzers by Guinness Nigeria, we have been able to prosecute some drivers. And when we prosecute, one, two, five, ten drivers successfully, you discover that the news will spread very fast and produce the behavioural change which this awareness campaign is expected to usher in,”Omeje noted.

Besides damage to themselves or others, studies have shown that excessive drinking causes other side effects such as low productivity, absenteeism, anxiety, weakness and accidents at workplaces and roads, factors that make the Breathalyzer a very important tool to keep a safe and productive environment for everyone. An often understated benefit of using Breathalyzers is that it is a non-invasive way of detecting excessive alcohol usage.

In essence, because the consumer enjoys the liberty of using Breathalyzers personally, as they are within reach, individuals can pre-examine themselves to determine the level of alcohol in their blood. Whether at home, school, workplace and road, Breathalyzers provide an easy, quick, and reliable technology for alcohol testing and keeping the roads safe both as a law enforcement tool and a safety precautionary mechanism.

Guinness Nigeria’s partnership with the FRSC on road safety began about twelve years ago following the declaration of 2004 as the International Road Safety Year by the United Nations. In that year, both organizations jointly carried out the opening event of the International Road Safety Year in Nigeria and conducted various awareness programmes on drink-driving. Since then, the relationship has blossomed and translated to the yearly “Ember Months” campaigns during which motoring members of the public are educated on the dangers of drink-driving, especially during the last four months of the year (the “Ember Months”) when celebrations, festivities and human and vehicular traffic tend to be at their peak.

With the availability of the Breathalyzers and their portability, it is projected that the high death rate on Nigerian roads will be significantly minimized, while curbing the amount of money spent on hospital bills as well as the pain it inflicts on individuals, families and the nation.