By Joe Preston Sumo Sr.
Machinery including automobile (vehicles) or anything that is automotive can be very useful, efficient and productive but at the same time deadly when care is not taken in operating or utilizing them. Road or vehicular accidents accounts for more than a million deaths worldwide on a yearly basis. According to the World Health Organization 2016 fact sheets on road traffic accident, about 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes (WHO, 2016). In the report, the following facts are presented:
Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15–29 years; 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world’s vehicles; half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists; without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to rise to become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030; the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developments has set an ambitious road safety target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.
Being a young Liberian, I am concerned about the wave of deaths caused by road accidents over the years. Be it the unfortunate death of two children in the King Gray Community in Paynesville involving the President of Liberia’s motorcade, the National Transit Authority (NTA) bus crash in Zeanzue, Bong County which left scores of passenger dead or notably among all, the tragic death of a promising Liberian musical icon Quincy Burrowes (known as Quincy B) on the morning of March 3, 2017 in the vicinity of the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). I must admit that I had a great deal of admiration for this lad considering how angelic his voice was and the overall composition of his lyrics. This was a raw and natural talent that left us too early.
According to the Liberia National Police annual statistics for 2016, it shows 1,557 road accidents compared to the 1,149 in 2015 (Frontpage Africa Online, February 2017). This clearly indicates that there was a surge in road accidents for 2016 and from the reports gathered, 2017 could likely be another high statistic of traffic incidents.
As a technologist, mainly telecommunications/ICT, there is a lot we can do as a nation to curb the wave of accidents. This ranges from public awareness, driver’s education, enforcement of traffic laws with appropriate penalties, installation of traffic and road safety equipment and appropriate marking of our streets and highways. These steps in no way suggest that there will be no more accidents on our city roads and highways, but motorists will be more careful in using our roads when they know that there will be consequences for their violations.
According to the WHO report as mentioned earlier, most of those that are affected by these accidents are young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Several studies have also shown that older motorists are more careful on the road when operating a vehicle as compare to younger people. I am keen on young people because more than half of Liberia population is youthful people in this age range (Census, 2008). Therefore, many times than fewer, youthful exuberant gets in the way of young people when they are operating a machine thinking that the faster you move a vehicle, the better a driver you are or to put it squarely, ‘you are just hip’ being a driver.
What can we do to change the rising tide?
Let me firstly begin by offering a few suggestions as to the way we can all be safe on our roads and the concept and/or theory behind my submission.
Firstly, before a driver license can be issued to any first-time driver, there should be series of exams administered. As a first-time driver, just like someone trying to gain admission in any school, one needs to be tested to ascertain as to whether they have some basic understanding of the rules of the traffic which includes road signs, drugs and alcohol usage and/or abuse. This exam can be administered firstly by a third party and then a certificate of completion be taken the Liberia National Police (LNP) for authentication before the applicant can move to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) for a learner permit license issuance after another exam has been administered by the LNP for check and balance purposes. I am also cognizant of the education level of Liberia’s population but that still does not preclude the nation from administering specialized exams to those with little or no education.
Secondly, periodically, the LNP needs to conduct tests using a breathalyzer to test for alcohol or drugs in a driver’s body. To ensure that this happens, the LNP officers need to be trained how to use this equipment before they can begin to implement this action as part of their duties on our streets and highways. This will help to prevent some of the unnecessary deaths on our roads and highways as a result of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI).
Thirdly, there is a need to change the current driver’s license that is in circulation to a more machine-readable or biometric one. The license as issued by MOT has a barcode on the back of it that is non-readable nor biometric. Just as Liberia was able to have transitioned to a machine-readable ECOWAS passport, the same can be done for the driver’s license. As it stands now, the cost of a regular non-commercial light duty (ordinary) driver’s license is US$25.00 which is half of the cost of an ordinary Liberian-ECOWAS machine readable passport. Therefore, cost should not be a problem in this case since I am aware that individuals would want to present the issue of cost as a factor, after all, the licenses will be issued for a three-year period as they are at the moment and the cost is reasonable and affordable.
Where does the Ministry of Public Works fit in all this?
I want to submit here that this should be a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), Ministry of Transport, Liberia National Police and the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) data center. The MPW as part of its mandate, is to ensure that there are traffic lights at all intersections and highways where applicable. Considering that Liberia has power (electricity) generating issues, solar powered traffic lights will be the most cost-efficient and viable way to proceed which is also sustainable. These traffic lights can also be fitted with Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras that have the capability to capture vehicles that are found in violation of the lights (run the light). With the availability of fiber optic cable, data captured from these points can be sent to a centralized data center (IFMIS) and then share with all the agencies involved including the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for the payment of fines for a traffic violation(s). This is no rocket science and can be done with limited investment and resources upfront that will have a long time incremental benefits to the nation as a whole.
A pilot project can be initiated in the capital, Monrovia and then rollout to other bigger cities gradually. There is absolutely no substitute for a valued human life. Once it is lost, we cannot recall or recover it. As we are all aware, prevention is better than cure and it is better safe than sorry!
MPW needs to clearly mark out all roads indicating the speed limits with visible road signs that reflect at night and erect street lights that are solar powered. Again, these are low maintenance and one time investments that are ‘green’ and sustainable. The roads should also have reflectors in the middle of them to clearly demarcate the lanes to avoid head-on collisions. Our highways, especially the one leading to our only international airport (Roberts International Airport ) and entries into our major cities and towns are pitch dark at night with poor visibility, most especially during the rainy season when there is a heavy downpour. These lights when installed will help to illuminate the roads and highways, thus making them more visible and safe at night. Additionally, MPW needs to install radar in specific areas clearly reminding drivers of the speed limit in a particular area. These radars can detect the speed of an approaching vehicle and send a reminder to the driver (operator) that he/she is fast exceeding the speed limit in a specific area, zone and/or locale.
Education is Needed
The Government of Liberia may install all the safety equipment as mentioned above but if the driving populace and road users are not educated, all of these efforts will be futile.
Therefore, it is paramount that the LNP conducts periodic training sessions and or workshops on road safety education to drivers and pedestrians alike. Such training along with safety messages can be also done on local radio and television stations around the country highlighting the danger associated with operating a vehicle or just using the road.
Embedded in these training and public awareness schemes should be the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia along with the corresponding regulations as pertain thereto.
Liberia is the only country we have that is called home for all of us and our children. To make it habitable and safe, the onus is upon all of us (government included) to ensure that we take steps that are geared toward safety and prevention of unnecessary deaths. I am of the conviction that we as a people can make gains in curbing road accidents that often lead to injuries and deaths if we apply and adhere to the laws, rules and regulations that govern the streets and highways. As I was told by a physically challenged woman that works for UNDP office in Monrovia about 9 years ago, “every healthy or able-body person is one step away from being physically challenged if care is not taken.” What I gathered from her is that if one is not careful, an individual is more likely to be thrown in a state of physical disability just by making a simple mistake or not being careful which could result in a fatal accident leading to serious body injuries or deaths.
There is no new law or policy required to ensure that this proposal is effected because we already have the appropriate laws on our books. What I do know about Liberia is that we have very good laws and regulations but the implementations thereof have always alluded us as a nation. There is a need to begin this process now because we need to put an end to unnecessary deaths due to the nation’s inability to enforce safety measures.
When I was growing up in the early 1980s, I was constantly reminded of a promo on both radio and ELTV (now LNTV) daily; “who wants to go to heaven first? Drive safely for the life you save may be that of your own or a friend.” This message stuck in my head until today because there is so much power in it despite its brief content. Every single Liberian life is worth living therefore, it should not be lost to a cause that could be preventable. One should think safety in all that one does at all times because it is the less pricey thing to do.
About the Author: Joe Preston Sumo Sr. is a young Liberian professional who has worked in the telecommunications/ICT sector of Liberia for 10 at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA). He holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Liberia and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Sustainable Development: International Policy and Management at the School for International Training, Washington, DC, USA. He can be reached at the following: Email: [email protected] (Phone: + 1 443 675 8237)