Draft on My Worry for Pedestrians

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On Monday May 11, 2018, I strolled leisurely into my office with so many thoughts on my mind; thoughts of where to raise funds to sort out so many personal challenges and hopefully also meet the needs of some close friends and people I do not know but who think that with the rank of Assistant Corps Marshal in the Federal Road Safety Corps, I must be in the league of the Dangote’s and the Otedola’s. Even the educated ones assume that for every vehicle arrested for traffic infraction, somebody somewhere must be rubbing my palms. My new assignment even complicates matter.

There were also thoughts on how to handle the numerous phone calls, text messages and WhatsApp chats for assistance with the ongoing recruitment by the Corps. I also had thoughts on what topic to focus on this week which for me was most disturbing because of the deadline required. I know   I have heard people who are writers complain on what they call writer’s block. Now if gifted writers would lament on what to focus on what then should a bloody road safety officer like me trying to reach out to road users be going through, if you catch my drift. The reasons for a writer’s block such as fear, timing and perfectionism were all starring me at the face.

Even when I tried some of the getaway tricks such as going for a walk, changing environment, reading a book, listening to music or staying with someone who makes me feel good just did not help me.  When I could not make a headway on what to focus on, my mind suddenly flashed on the just concluded United Nations Bicycle Week celebration and some of the sound bites of the celebration in Nigeria. Even that was without form or substance and could not even relieve me. It was just then that a colleague walked into my office oblivious of my inner struggles and asked me if I had heard of the tragic death of the cousin of one of our senior colleagues. I said no and with a smile on my face asked him exactly what happened and where. Without knowing how much a saviour he had become to me, he gave me a snippet of the incident.

According to his story, the young man named Jerry Uwah (not real name) who is survived by a wife and a daughter before his death was working with a private company in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja where according to colleagues, he had carved a niche for himself as a disciplined and time conscious staff.  On this faithful day, Jerry had left his house after pacifying his beautiful daughter with a promise to buy her favourite chocolate on his way from work not knowing what fate held for me. He hugged his daughter, gave her a kiss and waved as he opened the door and immediately flagged down a cab just in front of their two-bed room apartment in one of the estates in Abuja. He boarded the car and had a smooth and safe ride and alighted at the nearest junction to his office at the central business district without hiccups. He was crossing the road to the other side where his office is when he was knocked down by a car driven by a female driver. The impact of the hit was so heavy that despite being rushed immediately to the hospital, he died as a result of the bleeding from his head.

Jeffery death brought to my memory a similar tragedy I shared a couple of weeks ago on this same page about the death of another young man even though his death occurred differently.  According to the story, Frank Uzor (not real name), his wife and their one year and six months old daughter were heading to church on a sunny Sunday morning in their black Lexus Jeep. He stopped by a bank to make a withdrawal for offering. After parking his car at a spot, he believed was safe enough, Frank crossed over to the other side of the road, made his withdrawal at the ATM before crossing back to his vehicle parked at the other side; he got into his car but before he could start his car and move, a Toyota   Hilux lost control and crashed onto their Jeep. Frank who was anxiously waiting to lavish his lavish on their third-year marriage anniversary just few weeks ahead, died on the spot while his wife went into coma and was unconscious for two days before she eventually regained consciousness. Miraculously, their daughter who was strapped to a car seat behind came out unhurt-she was found just the way she was- strapped.

I know that there are other cases within the Federal Capital Territory and across other parts of the country. Since I am not the one heading the accident investigation unit of the Corps, I will   not pre-empt the outcome of the investigations of the May 11 2018 tragedy but what is clear is that a lot of people who claim to be drivers are really not one. A good number are learner drivers who rather than allow the process of maturing as a driver would rather cut short the process in order to show off like others. I wrote about this in a piece I titled learners or lunatics for which some readers responded with insults for my choice of words. I hope to run that piece in a fortnight to refreshen our minds again. But while I maintain that a measure of insanity has taken over our roads, I must also state here that there is lot that is wrong with pedestrians and drivers irrespective of age or sex. For some drivers, it has to do with pride and ego as a handful would rather conceal their learner status and drive without their instructor as contained in the National Road Traffic Regulations. There is also the increasing traffic indiscipline which calls for stiffer penalty by traffic officers.

But while I lament  this increasing development, I must note that pedestrians all over the world, including developed climes such as the United States of America, United Kingdom and others face similar risk of being knocked down. In the United State of America which I love to cite often on this page, pedestrian deaths totalled nearly 6,000 in 2017 for the second straight year amid mounting signs that pedestrians and drivers are dangerously distracted. Although reasons for the recent rise have not been scientifically proven, smartphones and marijuana use are suspected key factors. According to reports, about 5984 pedestrians lost their lives in 2017, a figure almost similar to the 2016 record. According to Richard Retting, director of safety for Sam Schwartz Consulting, “People outside cars are dying at levels we haven’t seen in 25 years. “This increase in pedestrian death is coming despite improvements in vehicle safety such as the recent introduction of automatic emergency braking systems, rear-view cameras and collision-alert technology.

 

A study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has identified poor headlights as a problem while poor design and failure to adopt lights that swivel with the curvature of the road are hurting especially at night. Despite these identified challenges experts obverse that pedestrians are sometimes to blame, as well. While it is okay to state that we have a handful of   distracted drivers, I must also state again and again that we also have a handful of distracted pedestrians who are also not even literate on how to use the road. What we see daily on our roads are people both behind the wheel and walking in the street failing to take responsibility for their behaviour by learning to walk or drive without using the phone. Even okada and tricycle riders have joined the bandwagon

 

In the case of the United State of America, increased use of marijuana was identified as another potential factor causing the increase in deaths. I know we are battling with increasing drug case with the use of codeine being a concern here in our clime. Only a study will unravel the number of  traffic deaths that could be drug related similar to the development in America. The report from America shows that in the seven states that legalized the drug for recreational purposes, as well as the District of Columbia, pedestrian deaths rose 16.4% in the first half of 2017. At the same time, deaths in other states fell 5.8percent. Meanwhile the craze for big, gas-guzzling SUVs has not only affected the environment, lead to more fatal road accidents the study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety noted. The insurance research study equally noted that pedestrian fatalities were also increasingly likely to involve powerful cars, which, it says, suggests speeding was a factor.

 

Still in the case of the US, the increased fatal road traffic crashes occurred mostly in urban and suburban areas where SUVs are mostly driven and during dark hours on busy roads, like arterials, without proper pedestrian crossings. SUVs, pickups and vans we must note here which has also become the craze in Nigeria according to a study are linked to a higher risk of death or severe injury to pedestrians. The study notes that these vehicles have higher and often more vertical front ends than cars and are more likely to strike a pedestrian in the head or chest thus making crashes involving pedestrians both deadlier and more frequent in places where they predominate. This is why experts opine that improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting and speed limit enforcement are crucial road safety interventions.

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 For two weeks, I used the May 11 tragedy as a silent reminder on the need for concrete actions against the backdrop of World Health Organizations (WHO) warning about road fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa which it says is projected to increase by 112%, from approximately 243,000 in 2015 to 514,000 in 2030. This increase is said to be   a far greater percentage increase than any other region of the world and is in stark contrast to the projected reduction in fatalities in Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.

 

·         Before I continue with that same WHO report please allow me to bring you up to speed with my near miss experience as a pedestrian which I shared  in the piece STILL ON THE FOLLY OF JOGGERSI  in April 2018.In that piece, I noted that ‘’ I was almost knocked down even though I complied with all of these safety rules. I am hoping that by sharing my experience with you, you will learn and adjust from any form of arrogance or showoff while jogging. As a personal rule of thumb, I comply with the rules for safety while driving or jogging. I am also careful to remember that there is the possibility of being knocked down by a crazy cab driver or even a private car owner even when all the rules have been complied with. I therefore do not joke with the sacred rule that says face oncoming traffic.  On this fateful day, I was doing my stuff, jogging and sweating and very conscious that I had done everything possible to stay safe such as ensuring I am very visible to traffic. I guess I had forgotten the Nigerian maxim that acknowledges the look left, look right rule but expands it by urging you to also look up, look front, and look back because you stand the risk of being run over from any direction within our clime. I was very sure that I had looked at all the possible directions but I missed one of the greatest caution and that is that whenever you are approaching a fuel station, or even a possible T-junction or   Y-junction, you must watch out for drivers who after buying fuel would rather choose to drive against traffic instead of using the legal route of driving .Such drivers usually exhibit their deviant driving behaviour using the hard shoulders or even the walkway. What saved me on that fateful day was that even though I was jogging and facing traffic, I also ensured that I jogged very far away from the hard shoulder. I would have been a dead meat if I had been jogging as if I had a right of way of the hard shoulder like most of us do.

My experience shows you that nobody is immuned from being a victim. The WHO Reports shows that road fatalities per capita are projected to increase by 51% over the period 2015-2030, at the same time fatalities per capita is projected to decline for both HIV/AIDS (-18%) and malaria (-24%). Road fatalities it further notes are projected to overtake the number of malaria fatalities in the Africa during this period. To cause a shift from this global tragedy, WHO recommends   a system-based intervention which gives priority to institutional management and capacity issues. According to WHO, “a key factor in tackling the growing road traffic injury burden is the creation of institutional capacity across a range of interlinking sectors, backed by both strong political commitment and adequate and sustainable resources”.