MONROVIA, Montserrado – Amid the increasing rate of traffic-related fatalities in the country, stakeholders in the sector have held a public discussion focusing on road safety.
The World Health Organization currently rates Liberia as the country with the highest road traffic accident fatality rate, after climbing from having the second-worst rate of road traffic deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017.
The alarming number of accidents has prompted an online petition directed at getting the National Legislature to take actions to ensure that laws and policies around road safety are enforced.
“To reduce accident-related deaths, we are even appealing for the improvement of roads and traffic signs, plantings of street lights, functional traffic lights, and removal of defective cars from the street and empower our police with resources to do their job,” the petition reads.
At least 3,400 persons have signed the petition.
At the public discussion on road safety, held at the University of Liberia’s auditorium last Wednesday, Vasco Masseh, the CEO of Save Life Liberia, an NGO advocating for road safety, said the country’s Vehicle and Traffic Law was now obsolete and needed amendment.
The law was passed in 1972 and Masseh said it does not take into account the emergence of several technologies such as cellphones, thus making it almost impossible to punish individuals for using cellphones while driving.
“If you were to arrest me for using [the] telephone while driving, the law doesn’t support it; if I don’t even wear a seatbelt, the law doesn’t support it,” he said. “I want to make an urgent call for the need to amend this law.”
He also said it was unsafe for the government to permit vehicles to drive along the country’s streets and highways without inspecting them for roadworthiness, putting the lives of passengers, pedestrians, and other road users at risk.
The Save Life Liberia leader also frowned on the failure of responsible government agencies to identify their roles and take ownership and leadership in addressing road safety issues, in the country.
According to him, since the launch of the National Road Safety Action Plan last year, nothing has been done toward implementation, because responsible ministries and agencies were still having confusion among themselves over who should lead the process.
Road safety experts have blamed the lax implementation of many road safety measures, which the National Road Safety Action Plan was developed to address, for the increasingly high rate of road traffic accidents, such as the one that killed Montserrado’s fifteenth district representative, Adolph Lawrence, in March.
Bendu Carl, a student of the University of Liberia who attended the event, told The Bush Chicken that road safety issues in Liberia are not taken seriously by responsible agencies.
Carl said accident statistics show that too many lives are lost to road traffic accidents, yet not much has been done to implement the National Road Safety Action Plan, despite being launched since 2018.
“Between 2018 and 2019 alone, too many good lives have been taken away, and yet, nothing tangible has happened to improve road safety. I am disappointed,” she said.
The presidents of the Federation of Motorcyclist and Tricycle Unions and Liberia Motorcycle Transport Union, John Kenyor and Sampson Tweh, also participated in the discussion and advanced advocacy for safety training for riders.
The chief accident investigator at the Liberia National Police, Fred Gaye, said drivers’ behavior, the lack of basic road safety education, and use of defective vehicles are the major causes of accidents in the country.
Gaye said the police have strategized to conduct public sensitization and provide training for drivers to reduce the accidents and fatalities. Many drivers in Liberia are not properly skilled to operate vehicles because driver’s licenses are given out without a written or physical test of driving skills.
Although the current Vehicle and Traffic Law requires the Ministry of Transport to ensure that vehicles are physically examined before being registered and allowed on the roadways, vehicle owners can register them with the ministry without any physical examination.
The Public Safety Division at the police confirmed in a previous Bush Chicken report that at least half of the cars currently in the country are not roadworthy. It said police also did not have a policy in place to stop those vehicles from plying the roads. But during the public forum, Gaye said the police has increased its regulation to include roadworthiness in the regular vehicle inspections. He said inspectors would ensure that vehicles plying the roads meet the minimum requirement for roadworthiness.
He also disclosed during the forum that an analysis of 2018 accident reports showed that at least 100 accidents were reported each day, during the year. Gaye said the analysis also revealed that every day, there are at least six injuries and one death from traffic accidents in Liberia.
He said Montserrado reported the highest number of accidents, followed by Margibi and Grand Bassa.
As a result of the analysis, he said the police traffic division partnered with the Monrovia City Corporation to organize a road safety campaign in Monrovia to share the data analysis and educate members of the public of the importance of road safety.
“We moved to Grand Bassa County. We also launched another road safety campaign under the theme ‘Be accident free,’” he said.
To keep the momentum for increasing road safety, the chief accident investigator also recalled that the police had hosted the first road safety festival in Central Monrovia that was attended by hundreds of road users.
Last Wednesday’s public discussion was organized by the Liberia National Police in collaboration with Save Life Liberia. It preceded the planned second edition of the Safe Streets Festival in Monrovia, scheduled for May 11.
Panelists at the public forum included Judge Jomah Jallah of the Montserrado Traffic Court, Deputy Health Minister A. Vaifee Tulay, Assistant Justice Minister Edrick Noah, and Assistant Public Works Minister James Reynolds.
Other panelists included the director for roads at the Millennium Challenge Account, Victor Stewart, and international road safety expert Victor Mengot, who represented Cardno IT.
However, officials of both the Ministry of Transport, the lead implementing agency for the National Road Safety Action Plan and the Federation of Road Transport Unions in Liberia failed to honor an invitation to participate in the discussion.
The discussion was moderated by The Bush Chicken’s Jefferson Krua.
Featured photo by Eric Opa Doue