A fortnight ago, I received a very interesting mail from someone who from the tone of his mail, had eagerly waited for an opportunity to share his worry on the state of road safety in the country. The man whose name I prefer to keep to myself shared his worry on so many issues including the ongoing speed limiting device enforcement .Without really dismissing the novelty in the ongoing campaign, he however questioned the timing because of what he described as the state of our roads and the absence of the appropriate road furniture. Since I have chosen not to run excerpts of his mail ,I am however compelled to run a piece I did about two years ago that was influenced by Dr Terry Mene who was then the World Bank Project Consultant with the Federal Road Safety Corps.
An astute man that usually says it as it is, he once made a statement that caught at the very essence of my being during a discussion on the state of Nigerian roads. According to him, “Our roads are naked”. Never one to be outdone on astuteness, the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Osita Chidoka, embellished it this way: “No one builds a house and moves in without furnishing. A road is not a road without the appropriate furniture”. Those two statements set the pace for my piece this week.
The second pillar of the UN Decade of Action spells out the need to improve the safety of road networks for the benefit of all road users, especially the most vulnerable: pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Despite the current efforts of Nigerian government, what do you think of road signage on Nigerian roads? Inadequate? Bastardized by hawkers, villagers? Do you know that a good number of Nigerians who drive are ignorant of road signs? What do you think about transportation safety generally? Well, reflect on America’s assessment of safety and transportation in Nigeria – ‘’safety of public transportation; poor, urban road conditions/maintenance; poor, rural road conditions/maintenance: poor, availability of roadside assistance; poor- roads are generally poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few traffic conditions. There are few traffic lights or stop signs (bold/italics sentence not comprehensible. Remove??)
It is against this backdrop and the need to buy into the Corps’ strategies for safer roads that this piece will focus on road signage. It is common for us to lament over the state of our roads and the inadequacy of road furniture. Strictly speaking, how many of us truly comply with the ‘inadequate’ signs that we have? As a christian, the Bible says that he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much. I wish I have the Islamic translation.
A brief history of emergency road signs will be helpful in appreciating its importance. The earlist road signs were milestones, giving distance or directions. For example, the Romans erected stone columns throughout their empire,giving the distance to Rome. In the middle ages, multi-directional signs at intersections became common, giving directions to cities and towns.
Traffic signs became more important with the development of automobiles. The basic patterns of most traffic signs were set at the 1908 International Road Congress in Rome . Since then, there has been considerable change. Today,they are almost all metal rather than wood and are coated with reflective sheeting of various types of nighttime and low light visibility. Road marking was introduced into the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. The United Nations harmonized and introduced international traffic signs after the second world war. That is why from South Africa in Africa to London in Europe, including the United States of America , their signs all look alike.
In 1995, the United Kingdom had 2, 500, 000 signs and signals, 850, 000 road markings and 700, 000 road studs within roads in England alone. In Nigeria , adequate records of signs are yet to be derived but available records of clustered billboards, which have little possible effect on highways safety, are about 50, 000 from 109 registered outdoor advertising companies.
Road signs are highway pictures provided to assist pedestrians and road users in the safe usage of the highway. They are basically placed at the roadside to impart information to road users on traffic regulations, special hazards and other road conditions. You should not only be familiar with the individual signs, you should recognize the special shapes and colours because the signs are classified and coded according to functions and retro-reflectivity. What then is retro-reflectivity? It is the return of light incident to the source in the direction it came. Retro-reflectivity is the basic quality requirement of highway appurtenances. Retro-reflectivity increases road safety. If some minimum reflectivity is not maintained, the signs, delinators or markings will not accomplish the job it was intended to perform. Our signs, according to FERMA publications, are yet to be of international standard. Except for roads in some parts of Abuja, Lagos, and now Akwa ibom, our highways are yearning for United Nations international standard signs and markings both in shape, colors and above all in retro-reflectivity.
The manual on uniform traffic control devices requires that signs and pavement markings should be reflectionised or illuminated. The concern for retro-reflectivity of pavement markings and signs caused the United States Congress to pass a law in 1993 that requires the federal highways administration to establish minimum maintained levels of retro-reflectivity of signs and pavement markings. We can enforce a little bit of reflectivity into our highways appurtenances.