The alarming tales of gory accidents on Nigerian roads have become worrisome to most people and it is more saddening that the trend is mostly attributed to under-age drivers who for unknown reasons have access to cars. The situation is made agonising as accident victims leave their houses and families hale and hearty, with dreams and plans for the day, but end up dying because of some under-age drivers who are not supposed to be behind the wheels. Ruth Choji and Kehinde Ajobiewe write.
Mohammed Ali (not his real names), 16, who lives at Apo legislative Quarters, Abuja, with his parents (the father, a lawmaker) said, "I started driving while I was 14 years. My mother's driver taught me. I got a licence last year (at 15). I love to drive whenever I'm going out with my friends. All my brothers started driving early and our parents don't really mind, because there are many cars in the house and we are free to drive as long as we don't get involved in any accident".
Johnson, another kid born with silver spoon in his mouth, who started driving at 13 said, he learnt how to drive by observing people drive. The undergraduate who revealed that he has been involved in accident twice that left three people wounded and one permanently disabled, but that his parents settled the family. The lad, now 21, said he enjoys driving and that he drives for fun as there are lots of drivers in their house.
Mrs Martina Ishaya(not her real names), was a former aide to a senator and as one who had experienced the menace of under-age driving shares her experience and said "most of the underage drivers you are talking about are from rich homes. They are the ones that have access to cars that are tinted. If you want to see under-age drivers, visit legislative quarters, my Boss bought a jeep for his 14-year old son. Almost all the teenagers in the estate drive one flashy car or the other. Anyone involved in an accident abandons the car and pick another one. So, if there will be any law, it should start from legislative quarters, that is where most of the teenage drivers live".
Lawrence Dashe, a taxi driver in the FCT stated that "we will continue to have under-age drivers because many people do not respect laws in Nigeria. You will see small boys driving big cars because their parents are rich. Some of the boys you see driving Vectra in the north are underage but they got the cars from politicians who use them during elections for violence. That is why the accident in that axis is worse. Road Safety officers are also to blame because they give young people driver's licence, when clearly they know that the person is underage. Most Nigerians don't even go to the licence office. Once you have money, you can just give any of their officers to do it for you. So, why won't we continue to have teenage drivers who are daily wasting the lives of innocent Nigerians? Another problem is inexperienced driving by some who did not pass through intensive training".
A traffic warden who doesn't want his name in prints said, "I have been working for 11 years as a traffic warden and I can tell you that, most of the accidents caused by under-age drivers is because they are always absent-minded. They also drive mostly in the night so that people will not see them. Some will be making or answering phone calls while driving. Most of them don't even obey traffic signs and road markings like T-junction, sharp bend, pedestrian crossing, pot-holes and bumps. The FRSC has to control the issuance of driving licenses and monitor the performance of license holders. Try to ensure that only qualified drivers get licenses and only accredited institutions issue them. They should sanitise the licensing sector and make sure that people get the basic tutorials before driving on the roads".
A recent statistics issued by the FRSC showed that on the average, about 400 lives are lost monthly on Nigerian roads and highways. An FRSC officer who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday under condition of anonymity said, "it's lack of serious enforcement of traffic laws by the FRSC and the DRTS, especially those pertaining to over speeding, dangerous overtaking, overloading and age limit of drivers. Most of these young drivers are fond of disobeying traffic lights. They take alcohol, and some are drug addicts. Most of the teenage drivers have drivers' licences that their parents got for them through some of our officers. The issuance of driver's license without properly ascertaining the mental state of the holders is a problem. Most of them are ignorant of the rudiments of good driving.
Hence, under-age children usually violate traffic rules and regulations, and anybody below 18 years is not permitted by law to drive. Moreover, the influx of automatic cars in Nigeria made driving easier for children. We also have the problem of inability to bring traffic offenders to justice. Lenient posture of anti-traffic violation legislations has also worsen the incidence of road accidents because these minors are not brought to book due to compromise by some road safety enforcement officers. And that is why FRSC has announced a minimum age of 25 years for obtaining a commercial driver's licence and that a person is deemed to be an adult from the age of 18years." A public analysit who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday on the issue of under-age, Barr. Patrick Ayodele said, he was happy when the FRSC introduced the 25 years age limit for driver's licence because wealthy and corrupt parents buy expensive cars for their under-age kids and they in turn use the cars for sports with lives of innocent Nigerians as victims. Over speeding is another thing they love doing while under the influence of alcohol in most cases. Driving is now a nightmare on our roads as a result of non-observance of basic rules and regulations governing driving.
And the situation worsens as some rich people think that one of the ways to display how wealthy they are is to allow their under-age children to drive their flashy cars around town as they wish. In Nigeria, people can obtain driving license without personally appearing before the officers in charge, let alone getting tested and the next day, you will see them driving. Some don't even bother to learn or at most, they spend one week with a local driving school and they are given certificates and licence to drive.
Agencies like FRSC and VIO tasked with the responsibility of taking care of the roads, promote lawlessness by accepting gratifications from guilty motorists. You can sit in your house and pay somebody to get driver's license for you and these children do that through their parents, using their wealth. These underage drivers caused half of the accidents we have today and no real law is being made to stop it.
On their part, the Public Relations Officer of the Directorate of Road Traffic Services (VIO), Mr K.K. Iloduba (Jnr) told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the VIO is doing its best in checking the menace of teenage drivers on Abuja roads though some of them prefer to drive at night.
Iloduba, who stated that the age requirement for the new driver's license is 18 years, added that the VIO impounds any vehicle found driven by an underage. According to him, "As many as we discover on the road, we impound such vehicles and compel the teenage driver to bring to our office whoever it is that gave him/her the car keys to drive a vehicle."
The Nigeria police through the FCT command Public relations officer, DSP Hyelhira Altine Daniel said, they cannot rule out the fact that Teenage-driving is a factor in road accidents, but that she doesn't have the statistics at hand.