This article shares my ideas and experiences as a US-based Ghanaian who has made several trips to Ghana in the last few years and have spent several hundred hours driving on Ghana’s major roads. The idea is to compare our broken system with one that works, in order to provide some simple but useful ideas for consideration by government and policymakers. This is in no way an attempt to disparage the country or to suggest that the US system is perfect.
The enormous waste of valuable lives and property on our highways should be of grave concern to government and citizens alike. The National Road Safety Commission recorded 222 fatalities and 1,396 injuries in January 2020 alone. This translates to about 2,500 deaths a year. As a Ghanaian, I am horrified at this and the seemingly little or no action by the authorities to stem the situation.
We see the scenario being played out over and over again – a major “accident” with a lot of casualties occurs on Accra-Kumasi road and is reported all over the news; then all the key national players come in to express their views and advice to drivers; victims and families share their stories and grief; and so on. Then within a few days, the cycle repeats on another highway, like the Accra-Takoradi road. Let us take a look at some of the underlying issues:
To begin with, we need to change the term “Accident.” What happens on Ghana’s roads are rarely accidental. In the US for instance, the authorities intentionally use the proper descriptions such as “Crash” or “Collision.” They believe that these things happen when drivers disobey road traffic rules. In Ghana too, the same applies…so why should we suggest that there was an act of God or something we had no control over?
The Bad Roads!
No doubt there has been a major improvement in the overall road network in Ghana over the years. Yet, after 63 years of Independence what Ghana can show off for its major Highways is a complete disgrace. For instance, the road linking our two major cities Accra-Kumasi is nothing more than a single-lane death trap! A distance of only 250 Km, it takes over 5 hours and if you are not lucky, it will take your life as well. Single Lanes for a major highway is a really bad idea as they provide little or no safe ways for vehicles to pass slower-moving ones. Ghana falls behind a host of African countries in terms of modern highways, like the currently under construction 473 Km Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway.
Looking into the future, Ghana needs to invest heavily in building modern highways. At the very least, we need to see the Accra-Kumasi-Takoradi triangle connected by modern multi-lane highways. I believe that a government-private sector initiative, ultimately financed by sensible Tolling can make this happen. I believe also that this issue needs to come into the political space in our election year. Politicians need to appreciate the importance of multilane highways in saving lives and made to commit to act. Ghanaian Lives Matter!
Now from the above point, we have a situation where fast-moving vehicles are moving on single-lane highways. And this is compounded by slow-moving trucks and/or broken-down vehicles. This is so dangerous…, especially at night. In the United States, when a vehicle breaks down on the road, it is immediately moved off the road. That is one main function of the Police. You either have your vehicle towed immediately or the Police will tow it for a much higher cost plus a fine! This makes so much sense, right? Otherwise, vehicles may run into each other and destroy lives and property. Why can’t we do similarly?
Every time I drove on the Accra-Kumasi highway, I could count no less than ten very slow-moving trucks or completely broken-down ones. Sometimes I would even see mechanics working on the broken vehicles right on the highway! Imagine the danger they pose to themselves and other motorists. This should be completely unacceptable. Sometimes also, I noticed that some of the very slow trucks, are dangerously overloaded and/or are with Burkinabe number plates.
One would imagine that our overzealous tro-tro drivers in an attempt to overtake these trucks, end up crashing and killing Ghanaians. In the name of ECOWAS, we can allow foreign trucks to ply our roads, but we should certainly not permit them to be contributors to the carnage on our roads. Certain standards should be put in place and enforced to prevent such obviously unfit trucks coming into the country or to be overloaded.
I think that in cities where the Police presence is good, they need to come in and help. In the US, the Police work with a network of private Towing companies who they call to tow disabled vehicle to an Impound and wait for the owner to come and pay. We can do this in Ghana! Turn the death and destruction on our roads to good business for Towing companies and provide some funds for the Police Service.
Doing this on the highways will be difficult as there is not much Police and logistical presence there. This will need some investment, but it will be worth it. The Police Highway Patrol department needs to be equipped with personnel, Motorbikes, Speed sensors, heavy-duty towing trucks, Impound Yards, etc. In the US, the Highway Patrol is sometimes assisted by light aircraft that watch out for law-breaking motorists. I believe that government, civil society such as Churches and Ghanaian Associations Abroad, and our foreign partners can come together to raise funds to do this.
The next serious issue facing road safety in Ghana is our bad maintenance culture. Roads are not properly maintained by government and vehicles are not properly maintained by owners. The other day, I drove past the spot near Sunyani where a very promising Ghanaian musician and others lost their lives and I was surprised to see the same hazardous conditions one year after the crash. We have a systemic problem and I believe we should all continue the talking, public education etc. and gradually we will improve on the culture.
In addition, I think we need to bring this issue into the political space as well, more so, in an election year for our leaders to understand that Ghanaian Lives Matter! In the US, what makes people do what they are supposed to do is not because they are “better” people. It is all about cost-benefit analysis. It is far better to spend money now to maintain your car or the road, otherwise, it is going to cost you more. It is as simple as that. And that is the mindset we need to bring to Ghana by making defaulters feel the pain. If we ease the pain through bribery, mercy, family ties, political ties, etc., then people and leaders will have no incentives to change their behaviour.
Another important issue is poor Driver Training and Licensing. Some drivers behave as if they operate with their own laws of Physics. Unfortunately, the rude awakening happens when it is too late, and they are about to lead themselves and their innocent passengers to the afterlife! When a government agency issues a driver license to someone, what the government is saying is that the person has gone through the proper driver education and acquired the proper skill set to operate a vehicle and obey all the traffic rules.
In the US, the authorities take this very seriously. Their philosophy is that a crash happens when rules are not obeyed, and it is their duty to ensure that all the rules are complied with to save lives. Why can’t we demand the same in Ghana? I would propose that victims of road accident are educated and assisted to sue the culprits – the surviving driver, vehicle owner, public agencies, etc. Everyone involved has to be made to feel the pain too! That is the only way their behaviour will change.
In conclusion, we just cannot continue to lose important resources that are very much needed for our national development through senseless road crashes in Ghana. We would declare war if another country killed that many Ghanaians or a National Emergency if a disease killed that many Ghanaians. So why are we all not up in arms seriously fighting road crashes?
As I have repeated in this article, I believe that Road Safety needs to be very much in the public as well as political space and governments should be rated also on the number of people that died in road crashes in a year. Initiatives like #AriveAlive by JoyFM are really great attempts to save lives and I would urge all well-meaning Ghanaians to participate.