By Freddie Mpanga-Sempa BA (Hons), MSc. CMILT, ADi. CEO Tramarrs Consultancy Ltd www.tramarrs.com
On the afternoon of 1st October 2018 soldiers of the defence force of Sierra Leone were mourning the loss of their colleague. While transporting the deceased along the Spur road in Lumley at the far west of Freetown, the driver of the military truck carrying the dead and mourners lost control of the vehicle when it lost its brakes. According to eyewitnesses on the scene, the military truck careered off the road ploughing into dozens of pedestrians on the crowded footpath and somersaulted.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in 2017, Sierra Leone recorded 1,842 deaths this translated in adjustable death rate of 35.37 per 100,000 of population. Compared to an average of 18.5 per 100,000 of population in the category of low income countries, a disturbing-ly high figure. Statistics by Sierra Leone Police Traffic Management and Road Safety records an average of 16.25 premature death per month in 2015 as a result of road carnage. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are vulnerable road users; Pedestrians, Cyclists motorised two wheeler or three cyclists. These group of users do not have a protective “shell” around them and are therefore at more risk than those in vehicles.
The Spur road incident underpins the need for a multi-faceted approach to road safety. While these pedestrians were at the right place at the wrong time, an effective road worthiness test will help reduce such incidents. Pedestrians who are hit while off the line of sight of the main road like pavement and etc., have a case but the contentious question are those hit crossing or in line of the main flow of trafficked road. Many people died last year in run-over accidents in Sierra Leone.
Pedestrians are blamed for nearly 95 percent of run-over accidents but it’s invariably the motorist who bear the brunt under the law. This creates a situation for drivers who inevitably in an attempt to avoid the pedestrians, create more harm than good. A good example was a Gaaga (bus company name) bus that was travelling on a Ugandan highway, suddenly a pedestrian appeared in front of the speeding bus and in an attempt to avoid running over the pedestrian, and the driver lost control, rolled over several times and killed more than 40 passengers.
A road is meant for vehicular traffic, and pedestrians crossing the road must use designated crossing points such as signals, zebra crossings, controlled crossing etc. Motorists should not be blamed for accidentally hitting a jaywalker (crossing a street in violation of traffic laws), unless the driver was over speeding, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or the vehicle is in a mechanically dangerous condition or seriously overloaded, then they should be liable for such accidents.
Rules for Pedestrians:
Pavements should be used if provided. While using the pavement, pedestrians should avoid being next to the curb and walking facing the oncoming traffic. In Sierra Leone where roads have no pavements pedestrians are advised to always keep far off the main road or use alternative routes with no vehicular traffic. If in a group, people should walk in single file, especially on narrow or poor light roads, look both ways first before crossing. Cross the road well before a sharp right-hand bend so that oncoming traffic have better chance of seeing you. Wear or carry something light coloured, bright or fluorescent in poor daylight conditions. When it is dark, use reflective materials (e.g. armbands, sashes, waistcoats, jackets, footwear), which can be seen by drivers using headlights up to three times further than non-reflective materials. Young children should not be out alone on the pavement or on the road. When walking with children, keep between them and the traffic and hold their hands tight.
Crossing the Road:
In any attempt to cross the road, pedestrians must find a safe place to cross, such as, a designated crossing point; a subway, footbridge, an island, zebra crossing, pelican crossing, puffin crossing or a crossing point controlled by a police officer or lollipop traffic warden. On any designated crossing like zebra crossing, pedestrians have right of way. However, the attitude of most drivers in Sierra Leone at zebra crossing is quite contrary, drivers do not give pedestrians the right of way.
Pedestrians should cross where they can be seen clearly from all directions of the road, and avoiding crossing between parked cars, bends, or close to the brow of a hill. Any person crossing the road should position themselves where drivers and riders can see them.
If there is no curb or pavement keep back from the edge of the road but make sure you can still see the approaching traffic. Because traffic comes from different directions listen as well because you can sometimes hear traffic before you see it. Look all round and listen, do not cross until there is a safe gap in the traffic and there is plenty of time. Even if the traffic is a long way off it may be approaching quickly. Keep looking and listening for the traffic while you are crossing because other traffic like cyclists and motorcyclists travelling between lines may appear suddenly. Do not walk diagonally across the road.
At junctions, look for traffic turning into the road, especially from behind. Normally when you have started crossing the road and traffic wants to turn into the road, you have priority and motorist should give way. If there are barriers, cross the road only at the gaps provided for pedestrians. Do not climb the barriers or walk between them and the road. If you have to cross between parked cars use the outside edges of the vehicles as if they were the curbs. Stop there and make sure you can see all around and traffic can see you. Never cross in front of a vehicle or behind it with the engine running.