Much of being a safe driver is being fit to drive in the first place, and knowing when this comes to play is when we discussed driver fitness, we tend to refer to sobriety, fatigue, eyesight – all those conditions that might impact the ability to see, think and move well enough to safely operate a vehicle. Driver’s fitness influences reaction time and stopping distance; in simple terms, the fitter the driver, the less susceptible he is likely to be to fatigue-induced lapses of concentration. Waheed Akinyemi investigates the importance of this often overlooked factor – health fitness of a driver.
Driving a vehicle is a physical activity and there is much more need to undergo a period of conditioning health fitness. No other activities or profession on earth requires so much like that of a driver in terms of concentration, stamina and endurance: this means a driver must be enormously healthy, and strong physically and mentally to be able to last for a journey.
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, physical fitness is a general state of health and well-being and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of sport, occupation and daily activities. It is generally achieved through proper nutrition, moderate-vigorous physical exercise, and sufficient rest.
Statistical figures released by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) revealed that 10,050 people die yearly in road accidents. This means there are 27 deaths on our roads daily and this excludes hundreds of victims who suffer various degrees of injuries and permanent disabilities from such road carnages. As worrisome as the FRSC’s figure is, many road safety experts and stakeholders believe the unofficial figure could be several times more than what is reported.
In a May 2002 study by Harvard University’s Vinard Nantulya and Michael R Reich, it was found that though road traffic injuries were a major cause of death and disability globally, a disproportionate number occurred in developing countries.
The study titled, “The neglected epidemic: road traffic injuries in developing countries” found that “the highest burden of injuries and fatalities is borne disproportionately by poor people in developing countries, as pedestrians, passengers of buses and minibuses, and cyclists.”
Many of the factors that have been adduced for road crashes in Nigeria include bad roads, over speeding, distracted driving, bad weather, fatigue, poor vehicle maintenance and others.
However, a driver’s fitness is one cause of road accidents that has not been given adequate attention.
The Managing Director, Occupational Health and Safety Managers (OHSM), Mr Ehi Iden said many lives have been lost not just because of bad roads but because of health fitness of a driver.
Iden stated that hearing-impaired, hypertensive and poor visual conditioned drivers are at a high risk of endangering their lives and the public.
He said, “A hearing-impaired driver when crossing a rail line, no matter how loud the train driver may blow the horn, will never hear the horn.
“We have so many of such accidents across the country. It happened in Kano and Kaduna where a vehicle collided with a train.”
Elaborating on other circumstances that cause accidents on the road as a result of a driver’s health fitness, Iden said, “We have drivers who are driving and their blood pressure is on the increase and resulted in road crash.
“When I used to live in Port Harcourt, a man who was driving developed a stroke and his vehicle rammed into stationary sand. That was a saving grace.
“We found out that neurologic impairment became a key issue; in recent time when we added neurologic assessment to drivers’ fitness and we found out that every indicator was expired and the driver did not even know.
“For you to actually renew your licence, these are the medical things you need to go through.”
He added, “In some cases where you are driving and you are in traffic, a driver just stopped, traffic moves and he is not moving. You found out that this is a guy who is suffering from high level of sleep deprivation.
“You have to go and knock on their window before they move. These are key issues that we must look into in our society.”
Iden noted that an accumulation of all these factors translate to needless deaths every year but could easily be avoided.
Proposing a lasting solution, he called for review of the road fitness certificate model.
“Government is the regulatory body that we have here in Nigeria. It’s important that we review our model in issuing road fitness certificate.
“When you have new issues and new cases keep coming up, turning a major issue, you now think of how you can remodel what already exists and review it so that we can capture the thing that is now coming up,” he quipped.
He proposed that commercial and private drivers must be made to undergo a physical and health fitness basic test which could be renewed only after six months or one year to be recertified.
“If you don’t meet those certifications, the agency should not certify you. This is the standard and we must see how we can actually review this thing so that they meet emerging risk conditions,” Iden said.
Mr Kola Quadri, a defensive driving facilitator, told Safety Record Newspaper that drivers are meant to observe 15 or 30 minute rest after driving nonstop for five hours. He said this is to avert drowsiness and fatigue while on steering.
He noted that driver fatigue is a serious problem resulting in many thousands of accidents each year and it is not easy to calculate sleep-related accidents but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.
Quadri added that any driver travelling long distances or when tired refuses to observe 15-30 minute rest is at a risk of a sleep-related accident.
He also warned against the danger posed by distracted driving, explaining that actions such as drinking while driving, combing hair, making calls, romancing while driving and others could lead to road accidents.
Furthermore, he said drivers should not use cough and other medicines which could make them drowsy before embarking on a journey.
In the same vein, the President of Association of Driving School Instructors of Nigeria, Mr. Sunday Nehemiah suggested that a driver’s fitness is directly tied to their level of driving competence.
He said many drivers do not pass through a standard driving training while some prefer to take shortcuts during the training.
“There are several reasons that cause accident; one of them is that a lot of people didn’t pass through a standard driving training and some that even attended the training want to take short cut, to finish up.
“Instead of using 1 month for instance in driving schools, they say they want 3 days or 1 week. Driving schools have a standard, learning abilities are different; some people have to learn for 2 months or even more to catch up while some others learn for less than a month and they are already capable.
“However, in Nigeria, people will buy a car today and ask some un-qualified persons to teach them how to drive in two days and the next day, he is on the major expressway travelling long distances without any proper training on driving.
“No knowledge of road signs, defensive driving, etc. 90% of Nigerians don’t know the road signs. A good driver has to have these qualities with concentration, observation and anticipation.
“If everybody is applying these, I don’t think we are going to be having accident on our roads,” Nehemiah said.
At various fora and seminars, stakeholders in the safety industry have advised drivers to avoid driving when too tired, to plan their journeys safely and follow the advice in the Highway Code.
Commercial fleet operators have also been advised to assess the risks involved in their drivers travelling long distances and put in place all reasonably practicable measures to manage those risks, that is sending them to qualified driving schools for defensive driving skills and undergo driver health fitness tests so as to reduce accidents on the road.