Road Accidents Becoming a Leading Cause of Death in Liberia

A fatal accident scene on the Monrovia-Kakata highway Photo credit: Liberia News Agency

.... According to the latest WHO data published in 2020 Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in Liberia reached 1,920 or 5.70% of total deaths. The age-adjusted death Rate is 55.89 per 100,000 of the population, ranking Liberia 4 in the world then.

“Our people are dying needlessly and a lot more are suffering from fatal injuries.”

Those were the words of Chief of Public Safety, John Saah, at the Liberia National Police, when he announced the release of the statistic on traffic-related deaths in Liberia, which he argued is becoming a silent killer.

The statistic, according to the Saah shows that between January and September of this year alone, a total of 139 deaths, excluding injuries that led to disability, were recorded from 1,380 accident cases reported across the country.  The report also shows that most fatalities occurred on national roads and within the capital, with a large number of accidents recorded this year involving cars, motorcycles to cars, and motorcycles to pedestrians.

“Our people are dying due to the lack of training and awareness for users of roads across the country. There has been no training for motorists in the country for over ten years. [And]  the safety rules are not properly implemented out here," Saah claimed. “So drivers drive recklessly, causing problems for themselves and the other people on the road.  [This year alone,] 115 males and 24 females have lost their lives as a result of road-related accidents. That includes operators, occupants, and pedestrians.”

According to the latest WHO data published in 2020 Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in Liberia reached 1,920 or 5.70% of total deaths. The age-adjusted death Rate is 55.89 per 100,000 of the population, ranking Liberia 4 in the world then. In Liberia, road accidents are the country’s fifth cause of death, right behind influenza and pneumonia deaths, which reached 2,693 or 7.99% of total deaths in 2020, according to the blog, World Life Expectancy.

However, these traffic deaths and injuries are causing considerable economic losses — arising from the cost of treatment, lost productivity for those who died or were disabled by their injuries, and family members who abandoned their daily activities to cater to injured loved ones.

There were 406 car-to-car collisions, 169 motorcycle-to-motorcycle collisions, and 50 tricycle-to-tricycle collisions, according to Saah. He added that "car-to-motorcycle is 399; car-to-pedestrians is 91; tricycle-to-car is 55; motorcycle-to-pedestrians is 116; tricycle-to-motorcycle is 39 and self-accidents."

Worldwide, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years, globally, with approximately 1.3 million people deaths each year, the WHO said. More than 90% of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries with the death rates being highest in the African region, it added.

About three-quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths occur among young males under the age of 25 years, the bank said in a blog post in June.  

And in 2018, the police, in a more detailed statistical report released covering January 2007 to April 2018 show a total of 14,505 accident cases recorded nationwide --  averaging 1,208 -- which indicates  over 100 monthly accident cases. Or three accidents per day.

This makes road traffic one of the country's leading causes of deaths and injuries. According to the report, the number of fatalities was 1,747 persons, while about 9,189 persons suffered some life-threatening injuries. Pedestrian death, the report, which covered a 12-year period, constituted 40 percent of the total road accident deaths then, while occupants of vehicles made up 31 percent and vehicle operators 29 percent.

According to the report, Montserrado County, which hosts the capital Monrovia, is considered the nation's hotspot for road traffic fatalities as it accounts for 48 percent of the total deaths; 60 percent of total people injured and 77.8 percent of total cars damaged over the 12-year period.

Saa — the police Chief of Traffic noted that while accident-related death has reduced this year’s statistics, it does not change the facts that nearly all of traffic accidents are primary cause by reckless driving and the lack of adherence to safety rules. 

He went on to say that road traffic deaths and injuries result in significant economic losses for people, their families, and nations as a whole. According to him, these losses stem from the expense of treatment as well as lost production for those dead or incapacitated by their injuries.

“I feel that there are many who do not know the rules of the roads. They do not know how and when to drive and because of that, our people are dying,” Saah said, during the launch of a weeklong Road Safety Campaign in Monrovia.  [More so], the “The people [drivers] don’t usually pay any heed to the maintenance of their vehicles and there has been no training for motorists in the country for over ten years, a situation that needs to be changed.”

The campaign is in collaboration with the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) — which targets three of the 15 counties (Margibi, Grand Bassa, and Bong counties) and begins on  November 20 — and will result in the dissemination of road safety messages.

Police shortcoming 

Meanwhile, Saah has admitted that for more than 50 years, police have failed to ensure the worthiness of vehicles plying across the country, which he describes as sad.  He said sustaining road worthiness involving vehicles is “cost-intensive” and as such, the LNP has only been trying to partially inspect vehicles, motorcycles, and tricycles… “the requisite equipment needed is lacking in the post-conflict nation.”

“We as an entity have failed to ensure the worthiness of vehicles plying across the country for more than fifteen years because we are not capable of doing so. We don’t have the capacity and the logistics to conduct such an inspection.”

“Also, we observed that driving schools are teaching different things and we managed to bring them on board. We have gone about 25% and we have to go to inspect their facilities,” he said. “Whether you are literate or illiterate, you should go to driving school.”

The curricula of driving schools, he noted, are not coherent, and as such students are being taught different lessons.

Involving health workers

Meanwhile, the police Chief of Traffic has pleaded with the Ministry of Health to ensure that when LNP officers are responding to cases of accidents, trained and competent healthcare workers should be on the scene to provide proper care to those involved in the accidents.

“When we are responding to accidents, we want health workers to also respond to lift victims. When an accident takes place, victims are lifted by people who are not trained. When you are not trained and you lift somebody, you are going to help to kill them unknowingly.”

Saah maintained that the medical condition of victims of accidents would also worsen if people who are not trained shoulder the responsibilities of healthcare workers to provide first aid and other services to the victims.

Speed thrills but kills

Earlier, the Secretary General of the LNRCS,  Gregory Blamoh, expressed grave concern over the increased incidences of road accidents.

“Worldwide road crashes currently kill more than two people every minute and Liberia is no exception,” he noted. 

He reminded motorists that “speed thrills but kills” and as such, everyone  Traffic accidents, he noted, have many negative consequences as it can push families into poverty through either the loss of a breadwinner or the costs associated with lost income and prolonged medical care.

“Safe roads offer the promise of a safer, healthier, and better future for everyone, everywhere. Let us seize this opportunity and act appropriately in making the roads safe for all. Safer roads promote sustainable development.”