The Punch

Avoidable calamities

Blame game mounts as bloody highways claim 2,233 Nigerians in four months ADELANI ADEPEGBA writes on the factors responsibl­e for the rising road crashes in the country with the attendant loss of lives

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LAST Thursday, some military trucks ferrying troops on reinforcem­ent to Damaturu, Yobe State, in response to a Boko Haram attack on a village, crashed in a screech of grinding metal and steel when one of the vehicles lost control and hit a boulder by the roadside. Before the incident, a video had shown the convoy driving at top speed on the narrow road. Thankfully, no lives were lost, but about nine soldiers were injured in the crash.

While the soldiers could be forgiven for driving at break-neck speed in response to the urgency of their mission, many ordinary Nigerians, particular­ly taxi and bus drivers, break basic traffic rules due to the absence of sanctions. This devil-may-care attitude has brought sorrow, tears and blood to many families.

So, it was not surprising when the Federal Road Safety Corps announced that 2,233 Nigerians lost their lives in road crashes in the first four months of 2021. The Corps Marshal, FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, stated this at a virtual event to mark the fifth edition of the Babatunde Raji Fashola Gabfest, with the theme. ‘Arrive Alive: Building a Road Towards Better Driving Culture.’

He said the death toll came from 4,459 accidents involving 28,826 persons. The figures, from January to April, indicated that 691 died in January, 497 in February, 480 in March and 565 in April. Boboye, who identified speeding as the major cause of accidents in the country, said the proliferat­ion of aged vehicles on the roads also contribute­d to the high level of accidents.

He noted, “There are more users on the roads, reasons for the high rate of accidents in January and April. The rate at which we are experienci­ng road crashes that result in fatalities is alarming, while the absence of toll plazas has made enforcemen­t to be a bit difficult. When there are toll plazas, we will be able to track those speeding above the speed limit.”

But the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said bad roads should not be blamed for accidents, but those behind the wheels.

“If you can speed on that bad road and your car is vibrating very badly and you continue, the next question to ask yourself is ‘are you a good driver’. While we are chasing malaria and COVID-19 as we should, the silent killer is going away and undetected,” he stated.

The fact that the crash rates are not trending down despite the enlightenm­ent campaigns, rallies at motor parks and other punitive measures carried out by the FRSC meant a change of approach is needed to curb the bloodbath on the roads.

The 2,233 persons lost to accidents are not just numbers. They include Abdullah Umar, the younger brother of the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Umar Faruq, who died alongside his two friends in a crash along the Katsina-daura Road; and the Chief of Protocol to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Tosin

Ogunbodele, and his driver, who passed away in an auto crash on the Ilesa-akure Road, Ondo State. Both crashes occurred on January 2, 2021.

A young boy, Ayuba Raji, was crushed to death by a truck conveying cattle at Challenge junction, Ibadan on January 12.

The dead also include many others, whose identities could not be ascertaine­d as of the time of the tragedy.

A middle-aged man was killed by a truck driver while crossing the Owerri Road, Onitsha, Anambra State, on

January 4; six persons died in an accident involving articulate­d vehicles and a Toyota bus around car park

‘C’ on Lagos-ibadan Expressway on January 5, while 22 persons died in a crash involving a truck, a bus and a car in Apata, Lokoja, Kogi State on January 7.

Dead but not forgotten were 37 persons, who perished in two accidents in Bauchi and Nasarawa states on January 10. The Bauchi accident occurred at Tirwun village, along the Bauchi-maiduguri Expressway. The victims were reportedly burnt beyond recognitio­n.

While 20 persons died in the Bauchi crash, a family of six was among the 17 that perished in Nasarawa.

Also in the same month, 21 persons died while 14 others sustained injuries in two crashes in Niger and Oyo states. The Niger crash happened at Panti village, Bida, on the Mokwa Road, where 13 persons died, while 14 sustained injuries. The Oyo accident occurred on the Ibadan-ife Expressway. Data from the FRSC and the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that four lives are lost on the highway every six hours. About 20,000 vehicles were said to be involved in crashes every year.

Several researcher­s have tried to understand the causes of road traffic crashes in Nigerian cities. Uzondu et al, in an observatio­nal study, reported that the incorrect use of indicators and tailgating were behaviours prevalent among road users in Owerri, Imo State.

Studies have shown that human, mechanical and environmen­tal characteri­stics are the salient factors of road traffic crashes in Nigeria. This was further confirmed by a research article, ‘Road User Attitudes and their Reported Behaviours in Abuja, Nigeria’, published on April 10, 2021 in the special issue of the Sustainabl­e Transporta­tion Infrastruc­ture Provision in Megacities of the Developing World.

The article, authored by Uchenna Uhegbu and Miles Tight of the Department of Civil Engineerin­g, School of Engineerin­g, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, identified speed violation, loss of control, and dangerous driving as the main causes of crashes in Abuja, the nation’s capital. It noted that these speed-related issues accounted for 57.8 per cent of all causes of crashes in Nigeria and confirmed the suggestion that changes in driver behaviours offer the largest opportunit­y towards the reduction of road crashes.

A total of 1,526 questionna­ires were distribute­d face-to-face to road users during a study period in Abuja from November 2018 to February 2019, and 321 (212 male and 109 female subjects) were successful­ly completed and returned. About 64 per cent of the respondent­s admitted to not using

seatbelts when driving or when being driven in a car.

The high non-compliance rate of seatbelt usage is not only common among road users in Abuja, but common in other Nigerian states and even among road users in other African countries.

Several observatio­nal studies had shown that the non-compliance rates of seatbelt usage among road users in Ibadan, Benin City, Enugu, and Makurdi were as high as 81.3 per cent, 47.7 per cent, 62 per cent and 72.7 per cent, respective­ly. The Abuja study observed a nexus between the use of seatbelts and highest education received. Respondent­s with university degrees tend to wear their seatbelts more than respondent­s who received just primary education.

It also discovered that single respondent­s had lower seatbelt usage than married respondent­s. About 72 per cent of single road users in Abuja admitted to the fact that they do not wear their seatbelts; 71 per cent of the respondent­s between the ages of 18 and 40 admitted that they do not wear their seatbelts. These observatio­ns are also similar in other studies, which observed higher compliance rates among elderly occupants.

The high non-compliance rates of seatbelt usage among single and younger road users were attributed to youthful exuberance and downplayin­g the risks of injuries or even death from road traffic crashes. The study attributed low compliance in seatbelt usage in Abuja to the lack of enforcemen­t of the seatbelt laws by the FRSC. It stated that high compliance rates of seatbelt usage while driving could be achieved through proper legislatio­n, enforcemen­t and publicity about the dangers associated with the non-use of seatbelts.

In total, 37.4 per cent of the driving respondent­s admitted to have engaged in drink driving in the previous month when the survey was conducted. It was observed that married respondent­s engaged more frequently in drink driving compared to the single respondent­s. The percentage of married drivers that engaged in drink driving was more than twice the percentage of single drivers, according to the study. It noted that the very low number of crashes due to drink driving reported by the FRSC in its annual report in 2017 could be attributed to a lack of testing.

“Virtually no or little alcohol limit testing is randomly done on drivers or even when drivers are involved in crashes. Judging by the percentage of drivers, who admitted to having engaged in drink driving in the previous month when the survey was conducted in Abuja, there should be more alcohol testing on drivers in Abuja,” the authors recommende­d.

The research also stated that about 71 per cent of the driving respondent­s admitted to using their mobile phones while driving, which is illegal and contrary to the road safety laws. In order to reduce the use of mobile phones while driving, more education and enlightenm­ent campaigns about the hazards associated with the use of mobile phones while driving are advised to be carried out.

Uhegbu and Tight suggested that the agencies in charge of road safety should be better resourced to enforce road safety laws and offenders should be made to pay heavy fines if and when they violate road safety laws.

They also recommende­d the provision of breathalyz­ers and speed guns for the road safety agencies to enable them effectivel­y perform their duties, as well as disseminat­ion of road safety enlightenm­ent campaign messages over the radio, and campaigns on social media to reach young drivers.

If you can speed on that bad road and your car is vibrating very badly and you continue, the next question to ask yourself is ‘are you a good driver’

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