A few days ago, I was the passenger in a local taxi and the radio station happened to be tuned to the Truth Reconciliation and Repatriation Commission (TRRC) of The Gambia Hearing’s live broadcast. The panel of experts heading it were interrogating a witness in regards to the numerous accidents that had occurred during the previous regime’s various travels on our national roads and highways. The witness, a former driver for the defunct President of The Gambia, detailed the numerous traffic violations that their convoys had committed on a regular basis. In consequence, many lives had unfortunately been claimed by the heavy duty, bullet proof vehicles that dashed away through the various communities at speeds far exceeding the limits set by the competent authorities.
According to the National Road Authority of the Gambia (NRA): “The Gambia Roads and Technical Services Authority Act 2003 established the NRA, its Board of Directors and the National Road Fund to be used exclusively to finance road projects. Furthermore, worldlifeexpectancy.com stated the following: “According to the latest WHO data published in 2018, road traffic accidents in The Gambia reached 657 or 4.72% of total deaths. The age adjusted death rate of 47.51 per 100,000 of the population ranks Gambia number 4 in the world…The total number of registered vehicles from 2005 to 2013 was 54,471 or 26,564 cars and 4 wheeled light vehicles, 19,420 motorized 2 and 3 wheelers, 1,691 heavy trucks and 6,796 buses…”
On March 27th, 2020, the Ministry of Transport Works and Infrastructure of The Gambia (MOTWI) published the following press release entitled Road Safety is Key to National Development: “The reason why road safety is everyone’s business. In a span of just a week, nothing less than four accidents were reported (Kairaba Avenue, Bertel Harding Highway, Lamikoto Passimas Road, and Westfield Brikama Highway). Three of these accidents occurred on Friday, Saturday and today. This trend is worrying as it is imposing lots of costs to our economy (direct or indirect). Today it’s them, tomorrow might be me or you. The reason why all hands must be on deck in promoting road safety.”
On most days, the average individual in the Gambian society will spend minutes or hours commuting from one place to the other for various purposes. Whether it is students heading to school, professionals going to and from work or individuals engaging in various business or personal missions, the numbers speak for themselves. The traffic jams are constant and have become a part of the average Gambian’s everyday routine.
One of the key battles to win would be in the issuance of licenses. Many drivers on our roads were trained by friends or relatives as opposed to a professional driving school as recommended by the law. Nationwide sensitizing campaigns should be launched and conducted year round to ensure that the drivers on the road tailgating or driving with emotions, for example, understand the impact of steel on the human flesh and the damage it does upon impact. Stricter enforcement of the law should be in place so that aggressive drivers are metamorphosed into passive, defensive drivers.
On a different note, environmental issues could be raised as well. Emissions testing should be mandatory and properly regulated. Many unfit vehicles are dangerously occupying our roads on a daily basis and putting the lives of many at risk. The environment is also being affected by the fumes and exhaust caused by low maintained vehicles. This is detrimental during our generation and the ones to come.
Carpool commuting should be encouraged amongst professionals and students. People living in the same neighborhoods should organize themselves accordingly to utilize fewer vehicles on the roads daily by sharing rides. The Government should give communities participating in these initiatives some form of incentive to motivate them into spinning off the concept.
Legislation should also follow to limit the number of cars on our roads by assigning various groups the ability to drive on specific days of the week. Heavy duty commercial vehicles should be given their own time frames during which goods can be transported with ease and less congestion. The authorities should also look into the matter of the used vehicles that are no longer fit to be operational. The scrap metal and parts should be salvaged and recycled accordingly.
Each and every citizen should be advocating for better equipped and more secure roads in the 3rd Republic. Transportation infrastructure enables us to accomplish quite a lot in our nation building process. Nonetheless, we should be in a position to conduct all our activities by minimizing the risk of taking precious lives in the process. Engage with each other in the communities and save as many lives as you possibly can. As the famous proverb goes: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”