If you want to know some of the biggest things in our way to an improved standard of living, higher pay, more rewarding careers, its policies. They can be road blocks. If we want to make such changes, we should not mistake slogans for solutions; as policies can be many and will change. Principles are few, but they hardly change. Slogans can rally the troops already on your side but can hardly convince the unconvinced. It's common for change management practices to view resistance to change as an irrational barrier to progress. Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.
This week has seen a lot of headlines proclaiming the impending BAN on Right Hand Drive (RHD) vehicles in the country. According to Sierra Express Media, March 14th, “The Public Relations Officer of the Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority (SLRTA), Abdul Karim Dumbuya has revealed that in collaboration with partners in the road sector, the Authority in November 2013 launched its Road Safety Policy, Strategy and Trust Fund in the country which effort was seen by many as a very important step in promoting an accident-free Sierra Leone with special focus on child safety. He revealed that right-hand drive vehicles are responsible for between 70 to 80% of road crashes in the country leading to earlier deaths, increased disabilities and orphans that have socio-economic impact on the development of the country adding, “Road safety should be everybody’s concern as each life lost is a loss to the nation.” Abdul Karim Dumbuya went on, “it is estimated that as many as 1,323 lives were lost in road accidents in Sierra Leone in 2013.” (SEM, March 14 2014).
By all accounts, Road Safety should rank as one of the highest priorities of any nation; and such a drive by any institution of the government should be given thumbs up from any well meaning citizen. However, in rolling out a policy, it is always advisable to make a strong case that will stand the test of any hint of scrutiny. Sometimes, people have been known to use scare mongering to put their points across. It is plausible to conclude that “An agenda for change” can only succeed if it is complemented with attitudinal change. It is one thing to proclaim an “AGENDA FOR CHANGE”, but it is an entirely different kettle of fish to inculcate attitudinal change.
Driven by the twin forces of “Agenda for change” and “Agenda for Prosperity”, it is natural that many would like to see real changes in the lives of ordinary citizens and for the good of all. However, it is important that such policies are well thought through, well researched and evidence based enough; to stand up to the rigours of scrutiny.
Mr. Dumbuya revealed that 70% to 80% of road crashes in this country are caused by RHD vehicles. Hmmmm. Surveys, studies, research and evidence will disagree with that statistic. They will tell Mr. Dumbuya that the majority of road crashes in the country and the world over are caused by DRIVER ERROR. Of the 1,323 lives that were lost in 2013, what was the percentage of RHD vehicles that were involved? Sierra Leoneans may tell you that okadas are the main culprit; and that they have the scars to show for it. Ever wondered why most young ladies wear leggings and tights in defiance of the hot weather in this country? Ever wondered why it is widely rumoured that Okada riders are wrongly refused treatment at Emergency?
No one needs a reminder about the recklessness with which Okada riders ply our streets. For starters, most of them see themselves as a cross between pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Many don’t believe that the traffic code applies to them. Riding in contra flow to moving traffic and needling through tight spaces is now the accepted code of traffic for them. It will be preposterous in the absence of any survey, but suffice it to say that every household in this country has someone with a story to tell about the pleasure of riding on okadas; and not many will be make a pleasant listening experience. That is not in any way meant to negate the vital role these guys play in transportation and employment in this country. It is just unfortunate that it comes with a scary medical price tag.
Mr. Dumbuya‘s revelation of the percentage of the RHD vehicles responsible for road crashes, may be seen by some as too simplistic. Is he actually saying that a study or survey was conducted to this effect? If so, is there a tick box or column in the accident form or accident report, which actually indicates whether the vehicle involved in an accident was an RHD or LHD vehicle? According to him,” it is estimated that as many as 1,323 lives were lost in road accidents in Sierra Leone in 2013”. How many of these lost lives were collated as actually caused by Right Hand Drive vehicles?
You don’t need to be an Einstein to know about the disadvantages of driving an RHD vehicle in Sierra Leone. To say the least, it is not only inconvenient and risky at times, it can be embarrassing. Although there are certain drivers who, through dexterity or experience, are comfortable with RHD vehicles, the fact of the matter is that, it may appear like an “educated guess” to attribute that percentage of accidents “SOLELY” to RHD vehicles. So why are the French not complaining when the English visit their shores with their RHDs? Because it’s up to driver behaviour.
If this “revelation” is something to go by, it seems that Sierra Leone is the ONLY country in the world that does not acknowledge DRIVER ERROR as the most common cause of accidents. Do we need a reminder that “a tree never hits a vehicle, except in self defence? By trumpeting the planned ban on RHD vehicles, is Mr. Dumbuya categorically stating that accidents in this country are largely determined by the position of your steering column? So for how long are we going to continue burying our heads in the sand?
Research shows that, four factors contribute to the vast majority of collisions. In ascending order they are: equipment failure, poor road maintenance, roadway design and Driver behaviour. To put it simply, research has shown that Over 95% of motor vehicle accidents involve some degree of driver behaviour combined with one of the other three factors .Driver error accounts for over 80% of all fatal and injury crashes ,with speeding, drink driving, non-wearing of seat belt, careless driving, poor hazard perception etc as the most common. (Society for the prevention of accidents, July, 2013). Drivers always try to blame road conditions, equipment failure, or other drivers for those accidents, but when the facts are truthfully presented, the behaviour of the implicated driver is usually the primary cause. Most are caused by excessive speed or aggressive driver behaviour.
With the exception of our SLRA and its parent ministry, if it is universally proven that driver error, together with other inherent factors is the main cause of road accidents, shouldn’t we be focussing on how to reduce or prevent these with well thought out policies?. Because most traffic accidents are the product of several factors, the probability of accidents can be reduced in a number of different ways. There are three main approaches we can use to prevent accidents: education, training, and enforcement. There is no doubt that the following activities have prevented the increase in accidents that would normally result from increases in traffic density.
But that seems too easy for the SLRA. “Ban right hand drive vehicles” and we can all live happily ever after. By implication, are we saying that banning RHD vehicles will give us the Eureka moment of transforming our country into an accident free zone overnight? Let us take a closer look at these factors for a moment. How many drivers with drivers’ licence know where the licensing office is? How many passed a driving test before they had their licence? How many vehicles do we see on our streets that make vehicle road worthiness a revolutionary act?
How many times do we see drivers with hazard lights (they call it “emergency” here) when there is no hazard for other road users to be aware of. You can understand if ambulances, the police, the fire Service, eh…and sometimes “De Pa”, use hazard lights. My cousin was once chastised by a traffic officer, for not using his hazard lights to indicate that he was going straight through a four way intersection. How often does the majority of drivers use their indicators? We have a left hand drive traffic system here, but how many drivers give priority to the vehicle coming from the left; especially in a roundabout like the one at “Cotton Tree”? When last was a driver banned, fined or jailed for driving under the influence (DUI) or drink driving? What does it take to become an Okada rider in this country; a bike and a helmet? These are some of the questions you expect the SLRA and its partners to be looking at.
We know that infrastructural development is one of the hallmarks of the government. It has covered hundreds of miles in road construction or reconstruction. But what is the use of building new roads if we cannot even maintain the ones we already inherited? That is too easy. The potholes have their own story to tell. If we go by that logic, it means that when the new ones become old, they too will suffer from the same lack of maintenance. But the SLRA would have you believe that 70-80% of accidents are caused by the position of your steering column.
Talking about road design as a factor of accidents, have you noticed how confusing the traffic at the top of Hill Cut Road (by St. Mary’s Supermarket) is? Is it a roundabout or what? How many drivers can really interpret road markings or traffic signs? How many are aware of or observe speed limits; and if so, when last did you get a speeding fine? How many times do we see drivers making reckless and illegal U turn right in busy highways? Tell me how many drivers know about or give way to pedestrians at zebra crossing? But SLRA knows the main cause of 70-80% of road accidents in this country.
On a brighter note, the law on seat belt is rigorously enforced by the police; kudos. Sadly, not many people know why. I gave a ride to a friend one night and asked him to put on his seat belt. He told me not to worry, for the police have gone home. Where was safety when you needed one?
Lets us take a closer look here. You allow someone to import his vehicle, pay customs and excise duty, allow him/her to licence and insure. In some cases, you ask them to add a yellow strip to their vehicle colour. After all that, you give him/her an expiry date for the use of that vehicle. So what do you do about the remaining days, weeks, and months on his/her licence and insurance? Refund the balance? This may seem farfetched, but is it like allowing someone to import contraband and preventing them from selling it?
Oh, the government has a solution, and is reportedly planning to bring in “specialists” to convert RHD vehicles. Bingo. At what cost? Except if we want to defy the concept of depreciation, the cost of conversion might exceed the total value of your old car; insurance and licence included. And that is called, “home economics”. Talk about “expecting a tadpole to grow a tail when it has metamorphosised into a frog”. (Frog nor get tail way e young……).
We know that the government’s “subtle” attempt to discourage the importation of RHD vehicles, by levying a 40% hike on customs and excise duty, has not had the desired effect. It did not discourage people, why? Is it about quality? No one is denying that the position of the steering column is a contributing factor. But by creating the impression that 70-80% of all our traffic accidents will be wiped off the face of this nation if we ban RHD vehicles smacks of “poda poda talk”.
Picture this: A guy asked his brother in England to send him a car that he can use as a taxi. He promised that he will never bother his brother again for school fees or rent. He promised that he will break all his monthly “diplomatic ties” with Western Union. His wish was granted and he has kept his part of the bargain. He cannot even remember the road to a Western Union branch now. So what happens to this taxi driver guy, come September, 1st? Some people may think that a better option will be to allow RHD vehicles that are already in the country, to see out their life expectancy; and that more vigilance should be trained at the ports of entry to ensure the ban stays. Nothing is as painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.
Many may want to see this piece as a resistance to change. It is not. Come to think of it, “resistance to change is a social process that can strengthen changes and help to eliminate undesirable change”. Kapish?
Don’t forget your driver’s licence when you leave the room.