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Beating Traffic Congestion to Death backposted on Thu, 24 May at 12:35
On a typical day’s journey within Accra either by driving your own vehicle or by public transport, one will have the obnoxious experience of having to give-way in traffic to an emergency response vehicle, a bullion van, a security or government official vehicles.
The sound and movement of these vehicles can really cause one to panic or dangerously veer of the road to give way to them. If one is not fortunate he or she may be harangued by the drivers of these vehicles or receive a few bruises on his or her vehicle.
The situation in recent times due to the incidence of a bank bullion van crashing into a public transport bus on 16th March, 2012, has caused a cadence in the public opprobrium on the spate of flouting of speeding limits, traffic signals and other traffic laws by emergency vehicles either governmental or private. As it has become a regular feature on our roads, emergency vehicles, be it, hospital ambulance, firefighting tankers, police vehicles, government officials and many more ignore normal traffic rules, driving at excessive speeds, using opposing traffic streams, jumping intersection red lights, using road shoulders and many more to reach their destinations. The issue is more troubling when private vehicles also do it by following some of the recognized emergency vehicles in the form of a convoy. Others to, just ignore the traffic rules when it is most convenient for them to reach their destination without the aid of any recognized emergency vehicle. These things are often done at the blind side of the police. Some private vehicles anyway, in the name of government protocol and national assignments, do it regularly in the presence of patrolling police men.
It is obvious the reasons leading to the great concern by the citizenry of the country are attributable to the vehicle collisions, damage to properties, killing of pedestrians, fear and panic among other road users, lawlessness on our roads and many more others caused by their characteristic movement. For instance, in a GNA report in 2010, a story captured “Cocoa purchasing clerk killed in double tragedy” tells the story of a cocoa clerk who being transferred in an ambulance from the Bibiani Government Hospital to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital with injuries sustained due to an accident in Bibiani, was again involved in another accident as a result of the ambulance driver’s inability to avoid a parked truck due to the ambulance unusual high speed. Questions asked by many people are; does the law clearly spell out that vehicles are allowed to ignore normal traffic rules at particular times? If so, what categories of vehicles are allowed to do this and under what conditions are they permitted to do so? Furthermore, to what extent are they allowed to ignore the normal traffic rules and the accepted conventions of driving and road use? What has really accounted for the recent increase in vehicles ignoring traffic rules, be it, emergency or otherwise? These and many more questions remain unanswered in the minds of the Ghanaian.
For what is known in the engineering design of roads, roads are designed with safety being paramount. Before the alignment of the road is decided, the maximum allowable speed on the road which secures an acceptable amount of safety without causing an inconvenience to motorists must be determined. As such the maximum speed limits used in residential areas are 30kmph, for highways 80kmph and for highway sections passing through towns and villages 50kmph. Motorways which allow very high speeds often have a speed limit of 100kmph. Regardless of these, there are situations which may not allow vehicles to remain within the given limits. As transport by road is only a derived demand with a destination or purpose in mind, there exist situation where the need to arrive at the destination becomes overwhelmingly expedient for which these speed limits have to be exceeded. What often occasion these are situations pertaining to safety and protection of human life and sometimes issues relating to the preservation of the environment. These lead to the exemption of certain categories of vehicles at certain times from the normal rules governing traffic movement.
In Ghana, vehicles that are exempted, as captured in the Road Traffic Regulations Act, 1974 ( LI 953) under Regulation 38 include; Government vehicles used for official purposes by the Head of State, Police vehicles, Vehicles used by a recognized Fire Service, Ambulances or vehicles used as ambulances by recognized hospitals or clinics. The Regulations further stipulates that for these categories of vehicles to fully qualify they must have a functional siren or bell as a warning appliance fitted on them.
As the regulations with the exemptions are followed to some extent in the country, a lot of human life and property have been saved undeniably. A vivid example is the key role the ambulance service played in the May 9, 2001 Stadium Disaster. Also the police by these same means have been able to response rapidly to crime and chaos which has led to peace and calm in electoral polling stations and other areas whether mobs have gathered with the intention of causing mayhem. The presidency and some top government officials have also really benefitted from these privileges as they are able to reach their destinations quickly to conduct government business. Whiles their operations have provided a lot of relief to people in times of emergency and need, their ubiquitous nature in recent times raises a lot of questions, especially in their modus operandi.
Typically, it is difficult to positively and immediately respond to their demands to give way in a torrid traffic congestion situation, as it’s the norm in Ghana. Their uninformed appearance sometimes can cause one to react in panic, which so happens often when they drive against the traffic stream. It becomes very unnerving when some of these vehicles, despite not having sirens and bells on them as stipulated by law or even their organizational ensign to identify them with, overbearingly demand a give - way. Commuters have bitterly complained about how some of the users of these vehicles have abused these privileges when they were not on any assignment. Reports have been made of government officials and some security officers just trying to reach home or a restaurant by using these vehicles. Since the system is being abused and there is a lack of proper regulation it has culminated in private individuals also ignoring the traffic rules. Now, private motorists foreseeing they are going to be late for a meeting or to catch a flight just switch their hazard lights on and use the central portion of the road or the shoulders in the next lane. The situation is worse when people try to avoid traffic congestion by these means, as often seen.
Though the police through their limited logistics, personnel capital and capacity are trying to do their best to reduce this abnormality, there is the need for all the key actors such as the ambulance service, fire service, bank bullion vehicles, designers of the road etc, to ensure efficiency in their operations such that traffic rules are rarely ignored.
In the use of ambulances in London, ambulances are involved in an average of more than four accidents a day ranging from minor bumps to serious crashes, figures show. The crashes cost more than £300,000 a month in compensation, legal fees and repair bills. Also in the USA it is reported that the fatality rate for emergency vehicles stand at 12.7 per 100,000 workers. What is known is that the majority of the emergency vehicle crashes occurred when warning lights and sirens were in use. It is clear that these developed countries face grave challenges with the use of emergency vehicles in the light of traffic growth and have to take very critical steps towards mitigating the problem. Therefore a research was conducted in the USA by the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) and the National Association of State EMS Directors (NAEMSD) on the Use of Warning Lights and Siren in Emergency Medical Vehicle Response and Patient Transport. The research demonstrated that, although response times are faster with lights and siren, the time saved had no significant impact on patient outcome, except in cardiac arrest and obstructed airway. Bringing these lessons to the Ghanaian context, it means much attention should be rather given to the training of emergency vehicle drivers in the area of understanding the nature of distress calls and the road network. This will help them determine the expediency of the situation and which routes to use without necessarily taking to siren and warning light use.
The same recommendations cannot be made for the use of bullion vehicles as they operate mostly on the principles of security in the transport of goods and persons. However options are also available for their efficient movement in traffic, ensuring that it does not become a nuisance to regular commuters. The use of bullion vehicles, especially by banks, is quite silent in the Road Traffic Regulations Act, 1974 (LI 953) and this makes it very difficult to manage and regulate them. For the State banks, it can be understandable if they are categorized under the Police Services but the same cannot be said for private banks. Interestingly, the ascendency of vehicles ignoring traffic rules have to do with the growth and expansion of private banks and hence the need for them to transfer money using bullion vans. These vans carry police men but with the main purpose of guarding the content of the vehicle without much attention to ensuring easy and efficient passage through traffic. Also much attention is not given to the strict use of sirens and lights but rather the use of hazard lights and blaring horns. For this similar scenario in Kaduna State, Nigeria where the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) had recorded cases of 36 road accidents involving bullion vans in 2005, the commission had to issue out a stern warning to the banks in a summoned meeting of bank branch managers.
In a much varied opinion, some believe that if these bank bullions are not heavily armored and protected they should not necessarily draw attention to themselves in the manner they often do. These vehicles by blaring horns and using sirens attract armed robbers. A typical case happened in 2011 where a gang of armed men ambushed a bullion van transporting cash for one of the commercial banks in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria killing two policemen escorting the van. By this, it is advisable that banks use bullion vans with decoys and camouflages to ensure that they are not easily apprehensible by robbers but are still able to travel through traffic without ignoring the rules.
Some, on the other hand, lay all these woes at the door steps of the city planners and engineers. Thus, they blame them for their ineptitude which has led to the phenomenal levels of traffic congestions on our roads and the consequent chaos and lawlessness. They strongly believe if our network is properly planned with land-use in consideration and integrated with other modes of transport, there will be less congestion on our roads. Lesser numbers of cars will be seen on our roads since more people will be using the buses and trains, it is believed. But then, assuming without admitting that these professionals are inept, does it give as the liberty to worsen the situation by frequently ignoring the rules? In the extreme scenario, if we assume that even 20% of motorists ignore traffic rules to beat congested traffic in a day, the traffic congestion will exponentially increase with serious effects on safety and security. It confirms the truism that lawlessness begets more lawlessness. Nevertheless the way forward, without positing that the city planners and engineers are blameless, are for them to improve upon the efficiency of their planning, design and operations. Definitely the distance to the nearest health facility, fire service station, police stations and other public facilities will have to be reduced for the citizenry. In the metropolitan areas, the use of helicopters by the big health facilities and emergency response agencies should be encouraged as the only one extant is at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. However, that will have to be in the long term considering the purse of our metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies.
In the short-term what can be done is for the engineers to improve road intersections where the most conflict and impediment to emergency vehicles occur. Most of the accidents and inconveniences have occurred at these locations. To the extent that, there have been situations where emergency vehicles and government motorcades arriving at the same intersection from different approaches have had a lot of near collision experiences. A probable solution to the problem at the intersections will be to improve signalization at the major intersections, especially those leading to the hospitals, fire service and police stations. Provision of traffic signals at these locations will help much to avert the conflict if it is done with Optical Preemption. Optical preemption is one method of improving navigation through intersections when responding in the emergency mode. The safety of both civilian drivers and responders is improved when emergency vehicles cross through an intersection on a green light. Responders can control signals with optical preemption, resulting in a green light when the emergency vehicle arrives at the intersection. Initiating optical preemption usually provides adequate time for civilian traffic to clear the intersection before an emergency vehicle arrives. This technology is applied in most of the cities in Utah State, USA and has yielded a lot of positive results in reducing accidents and conflicts at intersections.
Aside using traffic signals to prevent incidents at intersections, some also propose the stringent measure of engineers designing self – enforcing devices on our roads to curtail flouting of the traffic rules. Some of them include speed tables and humps, protecting opposing lanes with barriers, putting road shoulders at a much different level and slope from the normal road running surface etc. These, if implemented, will be very wonderful in preventing private individuals from flouting the traffic rules but the same cannot be said for the recognized emergency vehicles that sometimes genuinely need to quickly transport people and goods to a particular destination.
A better enforcement strategy will be to install cameras on our roads in the heavily trafficked metropolitan areas. These cameras managed and operated by the police will be able to capture any vehicle travelling against the normal traffic rules for which the police can follow up on them and apprehend them later without interrupting the existing traffic condition. Sometimes the police in an attempt to apprehend perpetrators in traffic often exacerbate the congestion and chaos problem. Whiles these options may have a lot of cost implications and may take a longer time for them to be delivered, it is strongly believed, the police can improve on its current monitoring to bring genuine perpetrators of the law by these means to book. With their limited resources, it is believed, if they at least enforce the regulations provided by the act, a larger percentage of the problem will be solved. Biases towards vehicle users who parade themselves in the name of state protocol, government officials and so called very important personalities in the country should not be tolerated when they do not qualify to travel in that manner. It is important to mention that without enforcement, engineering solutions can do little and without enforcement education to change behavior can do less. Enforcement to the letter however, can achieve the best results.
This calls for a serious effort by the government and the security agencies to educate and warn the operatives within them and the general public to desist from ignoring or abusing the provisions of the act which provide for the proper movement of vehicles on our roads. Meanwhile the recognized agencies with emergency response vehicles should improve on the efficiency of their system to ensure that traffic rules are rarely flouted by proper training of their drivers and equipping their vehicles with the right tools. Data on their vehicles which have been involved in accidents should be captured and properly analyzed to forestall similar incidents in the future. In the same regard, the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) and the police should be able to capture separately, accidents resulting from these emergency response vehicles for analyses and consideration; as such data is virtually non-existent in the country.