On arrival at the Tema General Hospital, I saw a man who had been knocked down by a vehicle turning painfully on a bed at the Trauma and Accident Unit. He grunted and tossed in pain. He was severely injured with a gush on his head. The sight was bloody.
The medical staff tried to relieve his pain with some initial procedures but he was in too much pain. I went to the hospital to meet an old friend recovering from a road accident injury. That is when I met Dr Francis Caiqo, a General Surgeon at the hospital. Noticing that I was a journalist, Dr Caiqo offered to share with me some of the harrowing stories of road accident victims at the Tema General Hospital.
Dr Caiqo and his colleagues typically welcome road traffic accident victims from many parts of the country. But due to the proximity of the hospital to the Accra-Tema highway, Dr Caiqo tells me at least seven road accident victims are rushed to the hospital in a week.
The Tema General Hospital is a major healthcare provider in the Tema Industrial Area and adjoining communities. It also serves three major roads which are prone to accidents – the Ada-Aflao road, the Accra-Tema Motorway and the Akosombo road. Since the beginning of this year, the hospital has received 1,396 victims of road traffic accidents travelling in cars. Another 511 victims rushed to the facility are as a result of motorbike (okada) accidents.
Dr. Caiqo recalls a case where a student came to the Trauma unit and immediately had to get both of his legs amputated. After the surgery, he recalls, “he was depressed because he lost his legs so we referred him to a psychologist.” The student’s life changed immediately.
Another case he recalls involved someone who was brought in with a C-Spine Injury (which means injury to the spinal cord in the neck) after hard impact from a crash in a vehicle.
The spinal cord in the neck in a C-Spine Injury becomes soft, wobbly and fatal.
Not much could be done for him when he arrived at the hospital. He died.
It takes just one day for a road accident to claim the lives of at least six people in Ghana. In a year, that will be about 2,000 deaths. This week, I have read about two and witnessed the aftermath of one on the Tema-Accra motorway.
Incidents of road accidents are constantly on the rise. Ghana ranks 31 on the World Health Organisation’s list for deaths through road accident. It’s our reality.
The National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) faults the rising number of accidents to mostly human error. According to the NRSC, 80% of road crashes are caused by drivers – a damning realisation for all of us because we are all drivers, current and potential.
The cars we drive and how we drive them
Farouk Adams, a practical driving school instructor at Top Wheels Driving Institute in Spintex says a licensed driver gets carried away by complacency and learners always imagine how they can drive a vehicle.
“Drivers forget that the vehicle is a machine and it needs to be operated by a human being to function. People feel like if they fail to do something with the vehicle, that vehicle should solve the problem for them.
“Learners and licensed drivers think they are experienced, but you don’t fake experience. When you are in a vehicle you are actually acting. So if you fail to act, an accident occurs.” Farouk agrees with the NRSC that most accidents are caused by drivers.
Since the vehicle is a machine, just like the machine is affected by the human’s actions, “whatever the vehicle does, affects the human too.”
He explains, “driving is a science and it is mathematics, you have to calculate and be accurate.”
“A sprinter which carries 19 passengers, if that vehicle is speeding at 100kmp/h, each passenger is doing 100kmp/h because the vehicle is hitting that speed? Should the driver suddenly hit the brake, everybody will just fly out of the vehicle. If the vehicle stops, the passengers will continue with that 100kmp/h speed out of the vehicle and crash to their death,” he said sharing with me a common, but often ignored, law of physics.
“People need to consider and think when they are driving,” he counsels.
In my view, most drivers on the roads are simply selfish and don’t care.
I don’t know why but I think it is either they don’t care about other road users or they think they know the roads better. It is either they think they know how to drive better or they don’t obey the road rules and regulations. Maybe they simply don’t care about the vehicle’s mechanical condition.
Farouk is also frustrated with drivers’ attitudes on our roads.
“Not just anybody who feels like ‘oh I can drive so you let me try’. We don’t try. If you sit in a vehicle don’t feel like when you just enter a gutter, you can just pull the vehicle out and go along with your day. No, you’ve caused damage. Perhaps the tyres may explode, maybe the tyre rod breaks, you may feel like ‘oh but this one is not a problem’, but it is something you have caused,” he said.
His colleague, Theodore Dadey, the Senior Driving Instructor at Top Wheels says people must treat their cars like offices to allow them to exercise care for their vehicles and passengers.
He explains that you can tell what somebody is like when you go to their office, and in the same way you can tell somebody’s character by the state of their car. If they don’t care for themselves, they won’t take good care of the car.
Theodore is passionate about teaching learners how to avoid accidents. He reveals that in caring for vehicles though, there are loopholes in the vehicle industry in Ghana which threaten our safety.
The health of tyres for example is considerably a huge factor in accidents. He says that there are tyres on our market that are manufactured for weather conditions not applicable to Ghana. He also explained that drivers who seek second-hand or used tyres from shops are a major threat on our roads.
“The used tyres that we are buying today are killing us. We don’t know why we are purchasing those tyres. If you look at the characteristics of a tyre, those tyres have expired.” Tyres, like food, have a manufacturing date and an expiring date. “When a tyre has expired it cannot meet its requirement, it can explode at any time.”
Ardently, he continues, “we have tyres which are purposefully manufactured for cold countries [but] they are in our markets. How do you know that this particular tyre has been manufactured to be driven on snow?”
But the causes of road accidents don’t stop at human errors. There is a bigger picture staring us down.
Admitting that the number of lives changed – for the worse – as a result of road accidents and unhelpful driving attitudes exist is only the beginning of the need to clamp down on the root causes of road accidents.
While the powers that be hear me out, driving school teachers are doing their best to hammer the harsh realities of road accidents into their students and doctors on the frontlines continue to care for road accident victims the best they can. But the cycle can’t keep on that way. The onus lies on the road users to make sure they know how to drive responsibly.
The question is, are you ready to learn or to kill?