Road accidents are a problem which countries worldwide face on a daily basis. Injuries and fatalities from road traffic accidents are the only non-disease-related phenomenon among the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
For many countries' health systems, the injuries and deaths brought on by road traffic accidents continue to be a severe health burden. Despite the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the current public health system, road traffic accidents still contribute significantly to mortality and morbidity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that the number of people killed in road traffic accidents globally increased from 1.24 million in 2013 to 1.35 million in 2018. It is estimated that 1.4 million people die from road traffic accidents globally, most of whom are youth. Road crashes are thought to cause 1.35 million fatalities and 50 million injuries annually in developing nations, with more than 90 per cent of recorded fatalities. The number of fatalities from road traffic accidents is the highest in Africa.
Ghana, like most countries, face rising road crashes. A preliminary report by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service (GPS) estimates that 1,300 commuters died in road traffic accidents during the first half of the year 2022.
The authority reports that a total of 7,689 collisions involving 13,248 vehicles and 7,997 injuries were reported during this time.
The leading causes of these road accidents, according to the DVLA, range from the use of a mobile phone while driving, speeding and overtaking, drunk driving, driving under the influence of alcohol to failure to wear a seat belt.
Consequently, efforts by the government to reduce road accidents appear to be heavily oriented toward fixing driver behaviour. However, a more fundamental issue that needs to be given much attention is the safety design or engineering of Ghana’s network system.
Ideally, Road Safety Design elements include lanes, median strips, border strips, walkways, illumination, auxiliary lanes, horizontal and vertical curve strips, straights, gradients, super-elevation, cross falls, sight distances and lighting. While most of these elements can be seen on our road network, unfortunately, hawkers have hijacked pedestrian walkways and shoulders of highways, giving little room for pedestrians’ mobility and access.
The issues of non-functioning street lights or the complete absence of same on major highways is a worrying trend, a major cause of road accidents. Many of the road crashes are recorded at dawn and night. In terms of road safety outcomes, road infrastructure design is crucial.
The discourse about how to deal with this threat of road accidents seems to be significantly skewed towards implementing more of the current control measures.
This is primarily focused on the behaviour of road users. While this is necessary, the safety features built into roadways, additionally, are a significant aspect that cannot be overlooked. The absence of good road safety designs contributes to traffic accidents.
Sadly, the current road safety design guide for Ghana, which was released in March 1991, is out of date and does not reflect current international best practices, which could be problematic.
Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) guide
One approach to integrating safety into road design as a country is to adopt the Safe System Approach. The Safe System Approach involves all elements of road safety management and delivery and emphasises the need for a coordinated effort to address road safety issues.
This means that drivers will be accountable for their conduct, such as being cautious and following traffic regulations. Road administrators and planners will also create a system of roads that safeguards all users of the road - accomplished by using properly designed roads.
In addition to complementary modifications to check speeding, vehicle roadworthiness and safety, road user behaviours, post-crash care and safety designs for road networks can ensure that all road users can move about safely. In other words, even though other elements affect traffic accidents, there is little question that the safety of the road network environment might be more forgiving when an accident occurs due to the road infrastructure and engineering safety design. Road injuries and accidents are, therefore, greatly influenced by the safety design of the road.
There is the need for all parties involved to lessen the likelihood of traffic accidents, especially the government, to support initiatives that concentrate on the safety design of road networks. This is because in the fight against traffic accidents, the safety design of Ghana's road networks has gotten little to no attention.
The Ghana Highway Authority Road Safety Design Guidelines are out of date and need to be revised as a matter of urgency to meet international best practices.
All road stakeholders should put in place immediate, long-term and strategic action to ensure that safety designs are incorporated into Ghana's road system and are strictly adhered to by all.
In addition, the government should place premium and investments in better road design and infrastructure for all users, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable ones.