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Beating Traffic Congestion to Death

Beating Traffic Congestion to Death

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An article dealing with the impact of emergency vehicles on normal traffic flow on roads in Ghana
An article dealing with the impact of emergency vehicles on normal traffic flow on roads in Ghana

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Published by: Kwasi Agyeman-Boakye on Aug 20, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Kwasi Agyeman-Boakye, MSc (Eng), PMP Email: kwasi.agyeman.boakye@gmail.com
On a typical day
’s journey
within Accra either by driving your own vehicle or by public transport,one will have the obnoxious experience of having to give-way in traffic to an emergency responsevehicle, a bullion van, a security or government official vehicles. The sound and movement of thesevehicles can really cause one to panic or dangerously veer of the road to give way to them. If one isnot fortunate he or she may be harangued by the drivers of these vehicles or receive a few bruiseson his or her vehicle.The situation in recent times due to the incidence of a bank bullion van crashing into a publictransport bus on 16th March, 2012, has caused a cadence in the public opprobrium on the spate of flouting of speeding limits, traffic signals and other traffic laws by emergency vehicles eithergovernmental or private. As it has become a regular feature on our roads, emergency vehicles, be it,hospital ambulance, firefighting tankers, police vehicles, government officials and many moreignore normal traffic rules, driving at excessive speeds, using opposing traffic streams, jumpingintersection red lights, using road shoulders and many more to reach their destinations. The issueis more troubling when private vehicles also do it by following some of the recognized emergencyvehicles in the form of a convoy. Others to, just ignore the traffic rules when it is most convenient for them to reach their destination without the aid of any recognized emergency vehicle. Thesethings are often done at the blind side of the police. Some private vehicles anyway, in the name of government protocol and national assignments, do it regularly in the presence of patrolling policemen.It is obvious the reasons leading to the great concern by the citizenry of the country are attributableto the vehicle collisions, damage to properties, killing of pedestrians, fear and panic among otherroad users, lawlessness on our roads and many more others caused by their characteristicmovement.
For instance, in a GNA report dated 2010, a storey captured “
Cocoa purchasing clerk killed in double tragedy
tells the story of a cocoa clerk who being transferred in an ambulancefrom the Bibiani Government Hospital to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital with injuries sustaineddue to an accident in Bibiani, was again involved in another accident as a result of the ambulance
driver’s inability to avoid a parked truck due to the ambulance unusual high speed.
Questions askedby many people are; does the law clearly spell out that vehicles are allowed to ignore normal trafficrules at particular times? If so, what categories of vehicles are allowed to do this and under what conditions are they permitted to do so? Furthermore, to what extent are they allowed to ignore thenormal traffic rules and the accepted conventions of driving and road use? What has reallyaccounted for the recent increase in vehicles ignoring traffic rules, be it, emergency or otherwise?These and many more questions remain unanswered in the minds of the Ghanaian.For what is known in the engineering design of roads, roads are designed with safety beingparamount. Before the alignment of the road is decided, the maximum allowable speed on the roadwhich secures an acceptable amount of safety without causing an inconvenience to motorists must be determined. As such the maximum speed limits used in residential areas are 30kmph, forhighways 80kmph and for highway sections passing through towns and villages 50kmph.
Motorways which allow very high speeds often have a speed limit of 100kmph. Regardless of these,there are situations which may not allow vehicles to remain within the given limits. As transport byroad is only a derived demand with a destination or purpose in mind, there exist situation wherethe need to arrive at the destination becomes overwhelmingly expedient for which these speedlimits have to be exceeded. What often occasion these are situations pertaining to safety andprotection of human life and sometimes issues relating to the preservation of the environment.These lead to the exemption of certain categories of vehicles at certain times from the normal rulesgoverning traffic movement.In Ghana, vehicles that are exempted, as captured in the Road Traffic Regulations Act, 1974 ( LI953) under Regulation 38 include; Government vehicles used for official purposes by the Head of State, Police vehicles, Vehicles used by a recognized Fire Service, Ambulances or vehicles used asambulances by recognized hospitals or clinics. The Regulations further stipulates that for thesecategories of vehicles to fully qualify they must have a functional siren or bell as a warningappliance fitted on them.As the regulations with the exemptions are followed to some extent in the country, a lot of humanlife and property have been saved undeniably. A vivid example is the key role the ambulanceservice played in the May 9, 2001 Stadium Disaster. Also the police by these same means have beenable to response rapidly to crime and chaos which has led to peace and calm in electoral pollingstations and other areas whether mobs have gathered with the intention of causing mayhem. Thepresidency and some top government officials have also really benefitted from these privileges asthey are able to reach their destinations quickly to conduct government business. Whiles theiroperations have provided a lot of relief to people in times of emergency and need, their ubiquitousnature in recent times raise a lot of questions, especially in their modus operand.Typically, it is difficult to positively and immediately respond to their demands to give way in atorrid traffic congestion situation, as is the norm in Ghana. Their uninformed appearancesometimes can cause one to react in panic, which so happens often when they drive against thetraffic stream. It becomes very unnerving when some of these vehicles, despite not having sirensand bells on them as stipulated by law or even their organizational ensign to identity them with,overbearingly demand a give - way. Commuters have bitterly complained about how some of theusers of these vehicles have abused these privileges when they were not on any assignment.Reports have been made of government officials and some security officers just trying to reachhome or a restaurant by using these vehicles. Since the system is being abused and there is a lack of proper regulation it has culminated in private individuals also ignoring the traffic rules. Now,private motorists foreseeing they are going to be late for a meeting or to catch a flight just switchtheir hazard lights on and use the central portion of the road or the shoulders in the next lane. Thesituation is worse when people try to avoid traffic congestion by these means, as often seen.Though the police through its limited logistics, personnel capital and capacity is trying to do its best to reduce this abnormality, there is the need for all the key actors such as the ambulance service,fire service, bank bullion vehicles, designers of the road etc, to ensure efficiency in their operationssuch that traffic rules are rarely ignored.
In the use of ambulances in London, ambulances are involved in an average of more than fouraccidents a day ranging from minor bumps to serious crashes, figures show. The crashes cost morethan £300,000 a month in compensation, legal fees and repair bills. Also in the USA it is reportedthat the fatality rate for emergency vehicles stand at 12.7 per 100,000 workers. What is known isthat the majority of the emergency vehicle crashes occured when warning lights and sirens were inuse. It is clear that these developed countries face grave challenges with the use of emergencyvehicles in the light of traffic growth and have to take very critical steps towards mitigating theproblem. Therefore a research was conducted in the USA by the National Association of EMSPhysicians (NAEMSP) and the National Association of State EMS Directors (NAEMSD) on the Use of Warning Lights and Siren in Emergency Medical Vehicle Response and Patient Transport. Theresearch demonstrated that, although response times are faster with lights and siren, the timesaved had no significant impact on patient outcome, except in cardiac arrest and obstructed airway.Bringing these lessons to the Ghanaian context, it means much attention should be rather given tothe training of emergency vehicle drivers in the area of understanding the nature of distress callsand the road network. This will help them determine the expediency of the situation and whichroutes to use without necessarily taking to siren and warning light use.The same recommendations cannot be made for the use of bullion vehicles as they operate mostlyon the principles of security in the transport of goods and persons. However options are alsoavailable for their efficient movement in traffic, ensuring that it does not become a nuisance toregular commuters. The use of bullion vehicles, especially by banks, is quite silent in the RoadTraffic Regulations Act, 1974 (LI 953) and this makes it very difficult to manage and regulate them.For the State banks, it can be understandable if they are categorized under the Police Services but the same cannot be said for private banks. Interestingly, the ascendency of vehicles ignoring trafficrules have to do with the growth and expansion of private banks and hence the need for them totransfer money using bullion vans. These vans carry police men but with the main purpose of guarding the content of the vehicle without much attention to ensuring easy and efficient passagethrough traffic. Also much attention is not given to the strict use of sirens and lights but rather theuse of hazard lights and blaring horns. For this similar scenario in Kaduna State, Nigeria where theFederal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) had recorded cases of 36 road accidents involving bullionvans in 2005, the commission had to issue out a stern warning to the banks in a summoned meetingof bank branch managers.In a much varied opinion, some believe that if these bank bullions are not heavily armored andprotected they should not necessarily draw attention to themselves in the manner they often do.These vehicles by blaring horns and using sirens attract armed robbers. A typical case happened in2011 where a gang of armed men ambushed a bullion van transporting cash for one of thecommercial banks in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria killing two policemen escorting thevan. By this, it is advisable that banks use bullion vans with decoys and camouflages to ensure that they are not easily apprehensible by robbers but are still able to travel through traffic without ignoring the rules.Some, on the other hand, lay all these woes at the door steps of the city planners and engineers.Thus, they blame them for their ineptitude which has led to the phenomenal levels of traffic

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