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City of Banjul
Sunday, February 25, 2024

Road safety, what road safety?

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Mobility is a critical tool for reducing poverty as it enables access to employment, education, and healthcare, and it drives economic growth by connecting goods to markets. While advancements in technology, such as mobile phones, have allowed farmers in, for example, Kenya to access information about prices and demand for their crops, without safe and reliable roads and transportation, this information is of limited value.

However, the benefits of transportation are offset by the risks of death or serious injury that comes with it. These accidents disproportionately affect young and active populations, and the long-term impact of injuries and disabilities on survivors can be devastating. The economic stability of many households can be severely impacted, and the productivity of countries is also affected by the loss of human capital.

According to an article in The Standard Newspaper, 148 lives were lost in traffic accidents in 2023. Here is a cut from the article:

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”The Bertil Harding Highway is still under construction, even though some sections of it have been opened for traffic to use. But unfortunately, there have been major accidents since the road was opened, mainly caused by drivers’ behaviour,” NRA director general Ousman Sanyang said.

“Road safety is a collective responsibility and should be everyone’s business. Most of the major accidents are not about the poor road design but drivers’ behaviours,” Mr Sanyang said.

I have travelled along that road for so many times, and every time I arrive safely at my destination, I praise God. Overloaded trucks, taxis speeding from one place to another, private cars that hopefully have four wheels but are held together by wire and the passengers’ prayers. Motorbikes are passing by, quickly as angry bees. Many of the drivers don’t wear helmets. Is that a sign of not understanding that a human head is vulnerable, or because that head is so empty anyway so protection is pointless?

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The Bertil Harding Highway is under construction, so it is necessary to drive carefully and be focused on the traffic situation. We have other roads that are, or have been, under construction and accidents occur everywhere. Sand spread over the asphalt is a death trap for a motorbike that comes too fast. The sand slips away and the bike slips with it. Coming in high speed, the rider has no chance to survive.

I have written about the necessity of having a strict control over the traffic safety before. We all know that a driver’s licence can be bought, if you have the right connections, and too many drive without a licence. In the article about the 148 fatalities last year, Mr Sanyang urged drivers to adhere to traffic rules and work with law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of all road users. It’s a good thing to adhere to traffic rules, but what if drivers don’t know these rules? In my country we have traffic schools in every town, and people who wish to become drivers are forced to undergo an education where they combine theory and practice driving during safe circumstances.

The cars that belong to these traffic schools are equipped with two sets of pedals so the teacher can interfere if the student is speeding. The test every student must undergo is hard, and that is necessary for the road safety for us all. We can’t bribe anyone to get us a driver’s licence, and those who get caught by the police for driving without a licence will get a very high fine. Of course we have reckless drivers here too, but our control system is much more efficient than in The Gambia. Most of our citizens can read and write, and without these skills you will never be able to get a driver’s licence.

Too many are unable to read and write properly in The Gambia, so learning the traffic rules is impossible. The roads are not enough, and those who exist are narrow and over crowded, so following the rules is not a priority when all you want to do is to get to your destination somehow. When we speak about the accidents caused by over speeding and neglecting the rules, we also have a lot of people who have become injured in the traffic. Lamin King Colley, the commissioner of Police Traffic Unit, said police data has it that 1,210 accidents occurred in which 148 people lost their lives.

He said currently, Gambia ranks 8 in the world among countries with the highest records of road casualties.

Commissioner Colley, who described this trend as a ‘pandemic’, said most of the accidents were caused by recklessness speeding, overtaking, drunk driving and car racing. We also have young boys who steal or borrow a car, going out on a joyride and causing accidents that can come with a high cost for those who are involved. Last year, a friend of mine was driving his motorbike when he was hit by a car. The driver was a young boy who was supposed to move the car, but took it for a joyride instead. My friend broke his hand, his nose and his jaw, his motorbike was destroyed and his laptop broken.

My friend wore a helmet, and that saved his life, but he is still struggling with the aftermaths of this terrible accident. The insurance will not pay the whole value of the motorbike, the boy and his family are poor and unable to pay for the damage. My friend has to get regular treatment at the hospital and it is costly. All this for an idiot who went out for a joyride. There was no joy in that ride! The uncle who told the boy to move his car is responsible for this accident. Sure, he couldn’t predict that the boy would cause this accident, but the adult is always responsible for the actions of the young ones. A boy who is too eager to drive before he is of age, is not supposed to be behind the wheel.

The human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, before that the ability to predict consequences is limited. Unfortunately it seems as the ability of predicting consequences never develops in some cases. Our insurance companies in Sweden have a system that makes the insurance fees higher for young drivers, and the cost of these fees goes down with the driver’s age. Most of the accidents in traffic are caused by young drivers, and most of these drivers are young men. According to a study made by scientists at the Newcastle University in Great Britain, girl’s brains mature earlier than boy’s brains. It can be a difference of up to ten years.

There is no difference in the intelligence between boys and girls, but when the girl’s brains begin to develop in the age of 10-12, the same maturity process begins several years later for the boys, at the ages between 15 to 21. This is an explanation to why boys are the ones who cause more trouble, even when we believe they should be of age to understand better. This is very basic psychology that helps us to understand the development of our young ones. With this understanding we can help and guide them. With a strict system of rules and laws we can protect us all, in the traffic and elsewhere. With proper education we can learn to care about ourselves and each other. A win-win situation!

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