The National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) has put together a road safety code for political parties, ahead of the 2012 elections, to forestall avoidable accidents during electioneering campaigns and other activities.
Available statistics show that 11,500 road traffic crashes occur annually in Ghana, resulting in14,500 injuries, of which 5,600 are serious, and 1,900 fatalities (lives lost). Also, provisional fatalities for 2011 stands at 2,330, and provisional figures of road crashes as at May 2012 stands at 5,918, resulting in 928 fatalities and 670 injuries.
The NRSC says trends, since the 2000 elections, indicate that road crashes increase in election years claiming more lives than malaria or HIV/AIDS and violent crimes. For instance, in 1999, road traffic fatalities in the country was 1,237, but increased to 1,437 in 2000, representing an increase of 16.2%. Also, in 2004, road traffic fatalities increased by 27.4% at a figure of 2,186, upon the 2003 figure of 1,716.
However, collaboration between the NRSC and leaders of the various political parties in 2008 led to a decrease of road traffic fatalities by 5.1%, from 2,043 in 2007 to 1,938 in 2008. Therefore, to ensure peaceful and crash-free elections this year, the NRSC has again, engaged political parties to promote the implementation of the "Road Safety Code of Practice for Political Parties."
Speaking at the dialogue session in Accra on Thursday, the Executive Director of the NRSC, Mr. Noble John Appiah, said the dialogue would help politicians and political parties appreciate the importance of road safety. According to him, road safety was not just about statistics, but an issue of human life and public health, and for that matter, a personal issue that involves everyone.
He noted that road crashes and their resultant consequences were also avoidable, thus political parties should play a major role in ensuring road safety in the movement of their members and supporters during electioneering campaigns.
The Director for Research, Monitoring and Evaluation, Mrs. May Obiri-Yeboah, who discussed the road safety code for political parties, said the road was the main system of inland transportation in Ghana, and accounts for 97% of passenger transport, and 94% of freight.
She added that motorisation had enhanced people's lives, so the challenges of road traffic crashes required the NRSC to fine-tune its activities, and engage opinion leaders in the drive against such occurrences that hamper national and regional progress. According to her, this also implied that the country had to plan and execute proactive programmes, geared towards the reduction of these crashes.
Touching on the content of the code, she said: "Every journey, however short, must be planned for the time to set off, selection of routes and rest places and periods," while avoiding the use of mobile phone or hands-free phones, because they distract attention and increase the risk of a crash.
She stated that drivers must keep to the posted speed limits on the road, keep a safe distance between the lead and follow-up vehicle, be alert particularly at intersections, and get enough rest after driving continuously for four hours.
Concerning vehicles, she said whether they belong to individuals, a party or parties, or hired, they should be road worthy and bear a roadworthy certificate, and have a valid insurance certificate. The vehicle must also be inspected visually for minimum requirements such as brake lights, indicator lights, headlights, tyre-thread depth and pressure, windscreen wipers, horn, mirrors, and functioning seat belts among others.
Furthermore, the code requires political parties to employ qualified drivers and ensure that each driver has a valid licence, and that the class of a driver's licence matches the class of vehicle, while the driver must be fit and not impaired.
Political parties are also required to keep and maintain a safe following distance, continue to watch the brake lights of the vehicle ahead, never overtake the vehicle ahead, and maintain a constant speed among others when driving in a convoy.
Mrs. Obiri-Yeboah said drivers should not look directly at the light of approaching vehicles, and slow down when driving in the night, adding, "Avoid beginning your journey to your destination after 9:00 p.m., but when this is inevitable, the driver should have taken adequate rest prior to the journey."
She cautioned that party supporters who travel in large numbers must be bussed, and the bus or buses should not be overloaded, while riders and pillion riders must wear crash helmets.
To ensure that these provisions are adhered to, the NRSC further requires political parties to appoint responsible persons as champions to drive and implement the code.
Among other things, the champion must ensure that issues relating to vehicles are complied with, and handle issues relating to the transportation of supporters to rallies and campaign sites. Additionally, they must monitor drivers so that they do not drink alcohol at rallies, and also look for a place for them to rest during campaigns, so they can have enough rest before embarking on a journey.
In looking at the way forward, Mrs. Obiri-Yeboah said the heads of political parties must assume the role of frontline enforcers of road traffic regulations.
She said politicians must publicly recognise the fact that road traffic crashes and injuries are major health problems, and proactively communicate to the public the benefits of counter-measures, in terms of public health and cost savings, adding," Let us, therefore, aspire to be an inspiration to the cause of road safety, before we expire."
As part of the engagement, the political parties present, including the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Convention Peoples Party (CPP), Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP), United Front Party (UFP), United Renaissance Party (URP) and the New Vision Party (NVP), all signed a commitment pledge to ensure peaceful and crash-free elections.