A male driver had just finished exchanging expletives with another driver when he approached a T-junction; at a point where he must turn off the major road. It required a 90 degree turn to the right, a normal routine he had done for years, which he did successfully. The only problem was that after having executed the turn to the right, he was unable to return it to the opposite side. His car veered off the road and ended up in an open ditch large enough to swallow a lorry. He could not shout for help and was unable to move even though he was conscious.
He was also not significantly injured save for a few bruises sustained from the broken windscreen. When passers-by reached him, he said he had no feeling in the left side of the body and lost control of the car. He could not engage the clutch and could not steer. He had just had a stroke with a left sided paralysis. Let us hypothetically suppose he was driving on a highway and had other passengers with him. Let us imagine for a moment that he collided with another vehicle which also had passengers; we would be confronted with a potential threat to lives and limbs on a large scale.
On a daily basis on our bad roads, there are many similar occurrences that often confuse the casual observer. Over-speeding, burst tyres and dangerous overtaking are not the only causes of lone accidents, as officials outside the scene are disposed to have us believe; these accidents also happen because of drivers who have a variety of health problems. Imagine the accident narrated above. Recall also a lone accident which happened two years ago on the Third Mainland Bridge involving a mini-van which had plunged into the lagoon.
The driver was rescued from the water, but before he was able to render his own version of events, the accident was blamed on over-speeding by certain officials trying to reconstruct the facts. His message was clear: “I was not on speed. I was driving at less than 80 kilometres per hour. My air bags did not deploy. I had a blackout and everything started turning around. That’s what I remember.” If he had died, excessive speeding would have been the standing explanation.
Beyond these two examples are many other public health problems contributing immensely to the increased rate of accidents on our roads. One often overlooked cause is poor vision. A good number of drivers do not see well. They fare even worse at night but would still prefer to drive at night. Sometimes their visual shortcomings are subtle.
They fail to appreciate the depth of potholes on the road or they do not visualise obstructions early enough to afford them the chance to take preventive action. When this results, accidents happen. Sometimes it is worse. Some drivers are not able to determine that a vehicle is parked just beside a road or even left in a lane in the road and they simply crash into it at great speed, which causes the loss of many lives. Once more, this is often blamed on excessive speeding.
The use of alcohol and some narcotic substances is common in many motor parks around the country. There, you are bound to find various types of alcoholic beverages, some locally brewed and others properly made in controlled conditions, while some are disguised as components of herbal mixtures. Drivers have unfettered access to all of these products and they routinely consume them prior to starting out on a journey.
They sit away from their vehicles as they are loaded and the prospective passengers are unaware of their intake. Already intoxicated, these drivers could be likened to terrorists at the wheels of their bus or car, as their perception has been altered by the alcohol and substances they had taken before embarking on their journey.
This is the more reason why we need more road safety marshals conducting breath analyser tests for blood alcohol levels rather than this recent fixation over speed limits in public vehicles. Speed is mostly a secondary cause of road accidents in many countries. France, with its bad roads by West European standards, has strict speed limits but nevertheless records some of the most frequent road crashes in Europe.
Germany, on the other hand, with its excellent roads and no speed limits, has some of the least road accidents in the world. The lessons here for us are clear: bad roads and unruly driving are the major causes of road accidents. Unruly driving may be affected in part by unsound health.
Driver fatigue is another common cause of road mishaps. In many developed economies, there are strict regulations regarding how many hours a day a person may drive. Here at home, nobody is able to monitor such things much less regulate them. But it is important to get a hang of problems like that because very often, long distance drivers in particular are at risk of falling asleep at the wheels.
When they do so, they drive off the road and into anything, including people’s homes. Pilots have been known to die from heart attack, stroke or food poisoning while at the controls of their planes. However, a plane usually has a co-pilot and the aircraft could be on autopilot when disaster strikes. So, the passengers are unaware of the details and they are taken to their destination safely.
Such maladies can also happen to a car driver. The driver dies first following a health catastrophe and then his now inert form initiates an accident. Usually, no post mortem is conducted and excessive speeding or a burst tyre is the culprit. The reasons given for many road accidents are predictable for these reasons except when the passengers are alive to give their version of events. There is no spare driver to rescue the situation.
Some weeks ago, the vehicle carrying a group of doctors to Sokoto State crashed between Abuja and Kaduna because of excessive speed. The surviving doctors disputed this account and said the driver’s speed did not exceed 100 kilometres per hour, and he also had his seat-belt on. Even burst tyres causing accidents can be disputed as a vehicle that has been driven off a road could collide with a hard object off the road and rupture the tyre.
Let us therefore make accident assessment a more sober affair than what we are currently seeing. As we have an air accidents investigating bureau, let there be complementary outfits for sea, rail and roads. When we do so, rote incantation for the causes of accidents will perhaps stop so that modern science can have a chance to play its role.