A fortnight ago, I received a very interesting mail from someone who from the tone of his mail, had eagerly waited for an opportunity to share his worry on the state of road safety in the country.
The man whose name I prefer to keep to myself shared his worry on so many issues including the ongoing speed limiting device enforcement. Without really dismissing the novelty in the ongoing campaign, he however questioned the timing because of what he described as the state of our roads and the absence of the appropriate road furniture. Since I have chosen not to run excerpts of his mail ,I am however compelled to run a piece I did about two years ago that was influenced by Dr Terry Mene who was then the World Bank Project Consultant with the Federal Road Safety Corps.
An astute man that usually says it as it is, he once made a statement that caught at the very essence of my being during a discussion on the state of Nigerian roads. According to him, “Our roads are naked”. Never one to be outdone on astuteness, the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Osita Chidoka, embellished it this way: “No one builds a house and moves in without furnishing. A road is not a road without the appropriate furniture”. Those two statements set the pace for my piece this week.
The second pillar of the UN Decade of Action spells out the need to improve the safety of road networks for the benefit of all road users, especially the most vulnerable: pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Despite the current efforts of Nigerian government, what do you think of road signage on Nigerian roads? Inadequate? Bastardized by hawkers, villagers? Do you know that a good number of Nigerians who drive are ignorant of road signs? What do you think about transportation safety generally? Well, reflect on America’s assessment of safety and transportation in Nigeria – ‘’safety of public transportation; poor, urban road conditions/maintenance; poor, rural road conditions/maintenance: poor, availability of roadside assistance; poor- roads are generally poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few traffic conditions. There are few traffic lights or stop signs (bold/italics sentence not comprehensible. Remove??)
It is against this backdrop and the need to buy into the Corps’ strategies for safer roads that this piece will focus on road signage. It is common for us to lament over the state of our roads and the inadequacy of road furniture. Strictly speaking, how many of us truly comply with the ‘inadequate’ signs that we have? As a christian, the Bible says that he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much. I wish I have the Islamic translation.
A brief history of emergency road signs will be helpful in appreciating its importance. The earlist road signs were milestones, giving distance or directions. For example, the Romans erected stone columns throughout their empire,giving the distance to Rome. In the middle ages, multi-directional signs at intersections became common, giving directions to cities and towns.
Traffic signs became more important with the development of automobiles. The basic patterns of most traffic signs were set at the 1908 International Road Congress in Rome . Since then, there has been considerable change. Today,they are almost all metal rather than wood and are coated with reflective sheeting of various types of nighttime and low light visibility. Road marking was introduced into the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. The United Nations harmonized and introduced international traffic signs after the second world war. That is why from South Africa in Africa to London in Europe, including the United States of America , their signs all look alike.
In 1995, the United Kingdom had 2, 500, 000 signs and signals, 850, 000 road markings and 700, 000 road studs within roads in England alone. In Nigeria , adequate records of signs are yet to be derived but available records of clustered billboards, which have little possible effect on highways safety, are about 50, 000 from 109 registered outdoor advertising companies.
Road signs are highway pictures provided to assist pedestrians and road users in the safe usage of the highway. They are basically placed at the roadside to impart information to road users on traffic regulations, special hazards and other road conditions. You should not only be familiar with the individual signs, you should recognize the special shapes and colours because the signs are classified and coded according to functions and retro-reflectivity. What then is retro-reflectivity? It is the return of light incident to the source in the direction it came. Retro-reflectivity is the basic quality requirement of highway appurtenances. Retro-reflectivity increases road safety. If some minimum reflectivity is not maintained, the signs, delinators or markings will not accomplish the job it was intended to perform. Our signs, according to FERMA publications, are yet to be of international standard. Except for roads in some parts of Abuja, Lagos, and now Akwa ibom, our highways are yearning for United Nations international standard signs and markings both in shape, colors and above all in retro-reflectivity.
The manual on uniform traffic control devices requires that signs and pavement markings should be reflectionised or illuminated. The concern for retro-reflectivity of pavement markings and signs caused the United States Congress to pass a law in 1993 that requires the federal highways administration to establish minimum maintained levels of retro-reflectivity of sAs I conclude today, let me remind you that a pavement marking that is not reflectorised or illuminated, according the Federal Road Maintenance Agency,( FERMA), is like a cosmetic application of white powder on a lady’s face that wears off with little perspiration. But a pavement marking is meant for safety and not for aesthetics. It is not meant to be like applied lipstick on a woman’s lips, which sticks to the drinking cup after few sips.
Pavement marking is meant to be of a high luminous intensity and not to be picked (stuck to) up by vehicle tyres after few passes (sips).It is expected that if minimum retro-reflectivity is maintained in our pavement markings, signs and delineations, there will be increase in night-time and poor weather safety on our roads and ultimately fewer crashes, injuries and fatalities will be reported.
Retro-reflectivity is a critical element that has helped US Department of Transport achieve its safety goals of reducing fatalities by 20%. Your knowledege of the traffic rules and regulations is of crucial importance as it ensures good driving culture. Remember the biblical injunction which says obedience is better than sacrifice. Let it be your key phrase always.Learn the signs and obey them.The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Japan have made significant progress in redressing road crash. Underlying this progress is the consciousness on the part of motorists to do it right while realizing the need to adopt new approaches to road safety. One of these new approaches to road safety is the safe system approach which requires that the road system be designed to expect and accommodate human error, recognising that preventive efforts notwithstanding, road users remain fallible and crashes will invariably occur. It exploits synergies between measures that address infrastructure, vehicles and driver behavior when they are designed in concert. The basic strategy of a safe system approach is to ensure that in the event of a crash, the impact energies remain below the threshold likely to produce either death or serious injury. This threshold will vary depending upon the level of protection offered to the road users involved. For example, the chances of survival for an unprotected pedestrian hit by a vehicle diminish rapidly at speeds greater than 30km/h, whereas for a properly restrained motor vehicle occupant, the critical impact speed is 50km/h for side impact crashes and 70km/h for head-on crashes.
Let me share this story to drive home the point: Samuel Ketusa lived at Aladimma Estate in Owerri, with his wife and two beautiful children. He had everything, or almost, everything working for him: a well paid job, 3-bedroom apartment, and some savings in his account for the proverbial rainy day. He also had been able to buy good cars for himself and his wife. His children were in one of the best private primary schools in Owerri.
One day, on his way back from the office, his wife called him to help her buy corned beef for dinner. Parking his car on the opposite side of the supermarket, he began to cross the road. He never made it to the other side. A Peugeot 307 seemed to race out of nowhere to ram into him, sending him flying into the air and landing some meters away on the other side of the road. He was dead before the horrified crowd could get to him.
Bebe Ofuru used to sell food items in the market place. She was struggling to complement her husband’s income as a security man at a construction company in Apapa. Most mornings, her selling endeavour commenced on the road, where she hawked pure water and puff-puff to motorists and their passengers, before proceeding to her corner in the market. One fateful morning, Bebe was just rounding up her road side hawking, when a motorbike broke free from the line-up of vehicles in the traffic hold-up, and in an attempt to beat the queue, crashed into her as she was finishing up a transaction with a vehicle occupant. Nobody could explain what happened, but Bebe ended up paralysed from the waist down.
Bebe and Samuel had one thing in common. They were both pedestrians. Pedestrians face the greatest danger on the road. And they form the largest category of road users. They cut across all levels and all socio-economic strata of every society globally. The need to avert the daily risks faced by these categories of road users forms the thrust of the 2013 United Nations Global Road Safety Week with the theme “Pedestrian Safety”. Slated from 6-12 April, 2013, the aim is to improve global road safety as part of UN resolution. According to the World Health Organisation, for too long, road safety has been viewed through the lens of motorists, ignoring the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. The Global Road Safety Week will draw attention to the urgent need to better protect pedestrians worldwide, generate action on the measures needed to do so and contribute towards achieving the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 -2020 to save 5million lives.
Some of the actions that can be taken by countries to improve pedestrian safety as recommended by the United Nations include: raising awareness of existing traffic laws on speeding, drinking and driving; increasing enforcement of the above traffic laws; improving lighting around facilities used by pedestrians; removing objects from streets which block facilities used by pedestrians; improving the safety of routes to and from schools; encouraging the use of reflective materials by pedestrians. On a long term basis, the following should also be considered: installing and/or up-grading sidewalks, crosswalks, raised medians, road signs and signals; lowering vehicle speed limits and introducing speed calming devices; developing and enforcing new and existing traffic laws on speeding, driving under the influence, distracted driving and walking, and pedestrian right of way; restricting and diverting vehicles from pedestrian zones; establishing and ensuring vehicle safety standards which protect pedestrians; providing education and training to all road users and the public generally.
Most of these recommended interventions are lacking in most parts of the country. However, in the case of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the on-going construction of about 6 pedestrian bridges along strategic locations such as the airport road, Kubwa road and the Municipal under the auspices of the World Bank Safe Corridor project and similar initiatives in Lagos and few other states, are strong indicators that things are gradually looking up in this direction even though there is still more needed to be done.
Pedestrians constitute a major group at risk of death, injury and disability on the road. Perhaps it would be pertinent to pause here and first establish what we mean by that term “pedestrian”.According to the internet dictionary, Wikipedia, a pedestrian is a person going on foot on the road, whether walking or running. Those using tiny wheels like roller skates, skate boards, wheel chairs, etc are also included as pedestrians. Plainly put, we are all pedestrians. On any given day, we choose to walk to and from our various destinations, or, at a minimum, we begin and end most trips on foot.
Thankfully, walking requires no fare, no fuel, no licence, and no registration! A pedestrian is also known as the exposed road user. He has no box protection like the occupant of a vehicle. He is liable to direct contact with mishap of any kind. According to WHO, pedestrian deaths are highest in Africa. As a matter of fact, more than 5,000 pedestrians are killed on the world’s roads each week. Quite frightening when you multiply this with the fifty weeks of the year!! The group of pedestrians most involved in road traffic crashes are children, the elderly and adults under the influence of alcohol and drugs.