Days to Christmas: Breakdown vehicles hunt for ‘prey’

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe
 Breakdown cargo trucks at different locations in the country. INSET: A consignment of the towing vehicles that generated public outcry four years ago
Breakdown cargo trucks at different locations in the country. INSET: A consignment of the towing vehicles that generated public outcry four years ago

Four years after an attempt by the government to introduce a nationwide towing service fizzled out, the problem of breakdown vehicles on our roads remains a major threat to the safety of road users.

While many vehicles break down on the highways, such as Accra-Winneba, Accra-Kumasi, Tarkwa-Bogoso-Ayafuri, the Tema Motorway and Kumasi-Tamale, there is no efficient towing mechanism in place to clear them, as required by law.

The Daily Graphic has been monitoring the highways between June and December this year, and with nine days to Christmas, has still observed that some of the abandoned vehicles had been on the roads for more than a month.

For instance, during a visit to the Central Region in June, the paper counted 38 abandoned vehicles on the Tarkwa-Bogoso-Ayanfuri highway.

The case was not different on the Accra-Winneba road, where 29 vehicles that had broken down had been left untowed.

Apart from many trucks parking on the shoulders of the road, the Accra-Kumasi highway has also gained notoriety for hosting many breakdown vehicles.     

The development poses a serious threat to commuters, as the abandoned vehicles contribute to many of the road accidents that have claimed many lives and caused life-threatening injuries over the years.

A section of the travelling public who spoke with the Daily Graphic expressed worry about the threat the lack of a towing system posed to their lives and, therefore, called for urgent steps to be taken to bring sanity onto the roads.

Threat to road users

Some of them intimated that the non-availability of an effective towing system had emboldened miscreant drivers to abandon their breakdown vehicles on the roads, adding to the risk of accidents.

A 48-year-old trader, Madam Afua Manu, who regularly uses the Accra-Winneba road, said she had escaped many accidents on that road, by God’s intervention.

Nana Osei-Bonsu, 35, a driver who uses that road, said vehicles abandoned on the road obstructed vision on the road and caused needless deaths.

Residents of some communities in Accra, such as Nima, Old Fadama and Ashaiman, also said abandoning breakdown and worn-out vehicles on the shoulders of roads worsened the traffic situation in their communities.

The law

The development is worrying, especially so when the Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 (L.I 2180) give specific directives on the movement of breakdown vehicles.

Regulation 102 (1) of L.I 2180 states: “An owner of a vehicle or person in charge of a motorcycle or trailer who causes or permits the motorcycle or trailer which breaks down on the road to be left on the road shall give notice to the nearest police station or authorise a towing service provider within an hour if the broken down vehicle or trailer is located within a built-up area; and within two hours if the broken down vehicle or trailer is within a place other than a built-up area.”

Despite the existence of this law, some breakdown vehicles are left on the road for many days and, sometimes, months without being cleared.

Vehicle towing brouhaha

The National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) announced that effective July 1, 2017, vehicle owners were required to pay a mandatory road safety fee each time they went to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to renew their roadworthy certificates.

The move, according to the NRSA, was to help promote safety on the roads by way of providing a reliable towing service, such that when vehicles break down, the authority could ensure that they were “swiftly towed” to help prevent crashes into stationary vehicles, as well as help prevent oil from leaking onto the roads to destroy them.

In its explanation, the NRSA said the service was to be run such that within one to two hours after a vehicle broke down, a towing vehicle would be available to do the towing.

Per the details, owners of motorbikes were to pay GH¢10 annually, while owners of non-commercial vehicles pay GH¢20.

 For commercial vehicles, taxi owners were expected to pay GH¢40; mini buses, GH¢80, while heavy-duty trucks also pay between GH¢80 and GH¢200 annually, depending on their tonnage.

In addition, foreign vehicles that were not required to go to the DVLA for road worthy certification were to be made to pay the required fees at the points of entry.

The NRSA had clarified further that owners of motorbikes had been captured because the law enforcing the collection of the fee, LI 71 (8) of 2012, defined vehicles to include motorbikes.

When the NRSA announced that policy, it said modalities and contractual arrangements with Road Safety Management Company Limited (RSMCL), a private company, to implement a nationwide towing service to clear all abandoned vehicles had been completed.

The RSMSL had then acquired 118 trucks for the national towing service, but the trucks were not put to use because the policy was aborted following protests by various stakeholders.

GRTCC calls

Following the continuous loss of lives to road crashes, the Ghana Road Transport Coordinating Council (GRTCC) has called for the road towing levy to be revisited and implemented in a manner that would be acceptable to all stakeholders.

The General Secretary of the council, Mr Emmanuel Ohene Yeboah, told the Daily Graphic in an interview yesterday that the earlier attempt by the government to implement the towing levy policy failed because of lack of thorough consultation and education of transport sector stakeholders.

To ensure proper implementation of the initiative, he said, the processes leading to the rolling out of such a policy must be consultative, instead of leaving it in the hands of politicians.

“It is clear now that we will have to go back to the drawing board and have a holistic look at the towing levy, so that we can address the menace of breakdown vehicles once and for all.

“The government, the NRSA and other major stakeholders in the transport sector, especially commercial vehicle operators, need to sit down and see how to properly implement the policy,” he said.

Making specific reference to the Accra-Kumasi Highway, he said it was important for urgent steps to be taken to clear abandoned vehicles from the road to reduce crashes.

Again, Mr Yeboah said, the government must prioritise the dualisation of the country’s highways to create more access for vehicular movement.

The NRSA response

When the NRSA was contacted on the way forward, it said efforts were being made to apply the laws on the towing of vehicles to prevent accidents and save lives.

The Director-General of the authority, Ms May Obiri-Yeboah, said the failed opportunity to implement the vehicle towing levy three years ago had been a major setback to efforts to clear the roads of breakdown vehicles.

“For me, I think that window was one of the best ways to solve the issue of breakdown vehicles. Probably education on the policy did not go well and that is why people were against its implementation. But I think we will go back to it some time,” she said.

She said through a nationwide engagement with key stakeholders on road safety issues, there had been numerous calls across the country for the vehicle towing levy to be revisited.

“We may go back to it some time later, but for now, we want to ensure that any person whose vehicle breaks down tows it promptly,” she said.

She added that the law, in its current form, put the responsibility for towing breakdown vehicles on the owner of the vehicle to protect it and ensure that it did not endanger other road users.

“With the tow levy, we were going to give tow lines to people to call for help anytime their vehicles break down, but it did not work. For now, all vehicle owners must respect the one hour to two hours’ grace period for clearing their breakdown vehicles,” Ms Obiri-Yeboah added.