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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Driving change: Promoting road safety for safer travel in urban Gambia

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By Lamin Sam Jaiteh

The near completion of the 22km road project by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in urban Gambia signifies a significant step forward in developing infrastructure.

These roads stretch from the airport junction through Bertil Harding Highway to Sting Corner. The project also includes the construction of 20 new roads within the Greater Banjul Area. While these projects offer improved connectivity and mobility, the surge in traffic, reckless driving and recent incidents of road accidents emphasise the urgent need for effective road safety campaigns. Therefore, it is important to explore the importance of these campaigns, considering recent events, and offer comprehensive plans to ensure successful implementation.

Urban transformation and safety challenges

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As the OIC road projects reshape The Gambia’s urban landscape, there are challenges that accompany the benefits of improved roads. The increase in traffic and influx of vehicles have created an environment where accidents are more likely to occur and risks on the road have heightened. Recent reports highlight the necessity of promptly addressing road safety concerns, especially those involving young people.

OIC Roads 3

Recent incidents

Regrettably, road accidents have become distressingly common on the newly constructed OIC roads. The Mobile Traffic Commissioner of the Gambia Police Force, Lamin Colley, held a press conference on 17 January, 2024, where he shared that there have been more than 112 recorded accidents, including 16 fatalities on the Bertil Harding Highway since certain sections of the road were opened.

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One recent incident involved a speeding vehicle losing control and colliding with another vehicle, resulting in severe injuries to those involved. These accidents not only bring about personal tragedies but also have far reaching impacts on families, communities, and the healthcare system. It is crucial to take proactive measures to prevent such occurrences and create a safer road environment.

Alongside these developments, there is a concerning trend of “drifting” and performing stunts on public roads, particularly among young individuals. The screeching tires, high speed manoeuvres and reckless driving behaviours pose significant risks not only to the drivers themselves but also to other road users. There have been instances where unqualified or unruly drivers have caused fatal accidents by speeding into incoming vehicles in opposing directions. Additionally, some drivers who join the main road from junctions seem unfamiliar with the basic MSM (Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre) rule that every driver should follow.

Sometimes, these drivers just hop onto the highway without even stopping or bothering to check if there is any traffic coming or passing by. This puts other drivers in a tough spot, forcing them to suddenly hit the brakes or dangerously manoeuvre around them. Unfortunately, these forced manoeuvres often lead to accidents.

The need for addressing this issue and establishing responsible driving practices becomes increasingly urgent to ensure safety for all road users. Dealing with this change in driving culture requires a comprehensive approach that combines enforcement, education, and community involvement.

Ensuring safe navigation: road safety campaigns

The need for strong road safety campaigns in The Gambia goes beyond being a mere suggestion; it is essential for public safety. These campaigns play a vital role in shaping attitudes, promoting responsible behaviours, and saving lives. Whether we are focusing on protecting our children during their commute to school or fostering a culture of responsibility among drivers, adopting a comprehensive approach is essential. However, there are key strategies that would underline a successful road safety campaign.

First, the foundation of road safety lies in education. By implementing targeted programs in schools, we can cultivate awareness from an early age. Collaborating with educational institutions to conduct workshops and seminars provides invaluable platforms for instilling a sense of responsibility behind the wheel among students. Driver education from formal driving schools and students from informal driver training set ups – apprentices, should be included in these trainings.

OIC Road 1

Second, communities play a pivotal role in driving societal change. Establishing forums where citizens can voice their concerns and brainstorm solutions encourages collective action. By garnering support from local leaders and influencers, we can amplify the message and make road safety a shared priority.

In addition, in today’s media dominated era, leveraging television, radio and social platforms is crucial. Creating visually captivating content tailored to diverse audiences becomes paramount, especially considering Gambia’s lower literacy rates. These campaigns not only inform but also inspire people to ‘take action.’

Equally important is the matter of law enforcement and penalties. Strengthening law enforcement efforts to address hazardous driving behaviours sends a clear message of accountability. Implementing strict penalties for offenses like speeding and reckless driving emphasises the seriousness of violations related to road safety.

Furthermore, public service announcements (PSAs) can have the true potential to connect with people emotionally and inspire positive change. Creating captivating PSAs that highlight the consequences of reckless driving can effectively emphasise the importance of responsible behaviour behind the wheel. By incorporating local languages and relatable scenarios, these messages can have a profound impact on communities, fostering a culture of awareness.

Supporting rigorous road clearing

Parallel to the need for road safety campaigns is the commendable recent road clearing exercise conducted by the National Road Authority (NRA). This exercise involved removing stalls and buildings that were deemed to have been illegally constructed, posing hazards to road safety regulations. Eliminating these unlawful structures is a crucial step towards creating safe roads for both drivers and pedestrians.

Choosing an effective slogan

The selection of a powerful slogan is vital for the success of any road safety campaign. There are two potential slogans to consider: ‘Kaira Silo’ (Safe Road) and ‘Yoni Jaama’ (Peaceful Road). These slogans capture the essence of the campaign and resonate with the cultural and linguistic context of The Gambia.

The slogan ‘Kaira Silo’. Safe Road highlights the campaign’s main objective, ensuring the safety of all road users. It conveys a sense of responsibility and collective commitment to making every journey safe.

On the other hand, ‘Yoni Jaama’. Peaceful Road focuses on promoting a harmonious road environment, free from reckless driving chaos. This slogan encourages a cultural shift towards peaceful coexistence on the roads, emphasising our shared responsibility for safety.

In conclusion, as the OIC road projects are being completed in urban Gambia, we face both promises and challenges. The pressing need for road safety campaigns, along with our support for the NRA’s rigorous clearing exercise, demonstrates our commitment to creating a safer road environment. The call for either ‘Kaira Silo’ or ‘Yoni Jaama’ is not just a slogan; it is an urgent call to action for all of us to work together towards safer and more peaceful roads that reflect progress and development in The Gambia.

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