CARNAGE ON THE HIGHWAY

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Government could curb the mayhem by putting the roads in order

No fewer than 187 persons died within nine days in road traffic accidents on the nation’s highway during the last Yuletide season. The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) recorded these in an exercise which started on December 19 along 20 designated corridors – the Lagos-Ibadan to 9th Mile in Enugu, Sagamu construction areas, Ore to Asaba and the notorious Onitsha Head Bridge, among others. Besides the dead, according to Bisi Kazeem, the spokesman of the FRSC, some 1000 others were injured in the 289 road crashes. Even when these fatalities did not include crashes in the inner roads and within the cities, some of them also fatal, it was good enough to earn the road safety crew a pat from their boss, Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshal of the FRSC, “for their commitment.”

The commendation was for a reason. The mass deployment of road safety personnel during the period helped to cut the rate of fatalities by as much as 33 per cent, according to the figures released by the FRSC. Unfortunately, the figure was still not good enough for many to have a good sleep. Nigeria is still in the league of countries with the highest per capita rate of car fatalities in the world. Indeed, the World Health Organisation ranked the country as the second highest in road crashes and the most dangerous in Africa with 33.7 deaths per 100,000 people annually.

Africa, according to records, has just 4 per cent of the world cars but accounts for more than 11 per cent car fatalities. Some 30,435 people were killed in road accidents in Nigeria between 2009 and 2013 while 183,531 others suffered various degrees of injuries. The United Nations evidently had Nigeria in mind when it declared in 2008 that road safety was a “public health crisis, on the scale of AIDS, malaria and TB.”

The irony is that many of these crashes were either preventable or could have been drastically reduced through inexpensive remedial interventions. For instance, it is common knowledge that there are too many rickety vehicles on our roads. Many of the taxis and minibuses often used for transportation are old; some manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s and have logged hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Besides, many of the vehicles were overloaded while the drivers had little or no regard for speed limits. Over-speeding reportedly accounts for about one-third of all road accidents, but the road safety personnel are so sparsely spread and too ill-equipped to enforce speed limits.

To worsen matters, many commercial vehicles are ill-maintained, some adorned with worn out tyres. The drivers of a good number of these vehicles, including trailers and tankers were often either drunk, or half asleep behind the wheels, many out of exhaustion. The long stretch of dilapidated roads across the nation, besides causing unacceptable loss of man-hours and unbearable discomfort to road users, partly accounts for the high body count of road crashes.

What compounds the situation is that when accidents occur, the victims are hardly given prompt attention. This is because the crop of road safety personnel patrolling the highways is inadequate. Emergency clinics are few and far between, just as ambulances on the highways are grossly inadequate.

Going forward, the FRSC needs to be equipped to do more in the business of saving lives, and in enlightening drivers and all road users on safety tips. They should ensure that the recently introduced speed limiting devices are installed in all commercial vehicles while those drivers who flout routine laws must be visited with stiff penalty. We urge a more creative and sustainable funding strategy for our road infrastructure as way of containing the highway carnage.