By Samuel Akinfe.
It is the beginning of ember months. Many people see the ember months as the most dreadful months of the year, because activities of the year begin to ramp up very fast. So also, people become vulnerable to various vices, and road crash is not exempted. And looking back in the year, the rate of crashes is been unsettling!
Is it the ghastly crash that left eleven people dead at Otedola Bridge or the still fresh August crash on third mainland bridge that left five dead (including children) on the spot and fifteen injured, both in Lagos? Knowing fully that there are lot more crashes that never made the news.
All that said, nothing much might change in the future considering the way we conduct and conclude on our safety investigations and the outcomes we derive from them – outcomes that do not address systems and processes, but indict individual’s action/inactions. Let us consider one of the high profile incident below as an example.
March 6, 2016 Nigeria lost a Minister, a Senior Advocate, a father, an energetic and patriotic citizen. That was not all; his wife and son died in the same incident. Why should a family bear such magnitude of loss in a day? There was a momentary silence, the news was punctuated with condolences, the rest now is history; many have died thereafter and dying still in very similar preventable circumstances.
“What killed The Honourable Minister of State for Labour,” you may ask. “Is it driver error, safety negligence or less than adequate system?”
Permit me to advocate this unsettling trend of how we go about crash investigation and what happened thereafter.
Excerpt of the report published by the Road Safety Lead Agency – Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) revealed some facts that may have led to the crash of Late Minister.
Firstly, on tyres, it was confirmed that tyres on the vehicle were not expired; this must have been verified by inspection after crash, but report had it that someone in the back up convoy vehicle noticed that the tyre that later burst looked under inflated (could this have caused a blow out? very likely!) unfortunately, there was no record to substantiate this claim. Though tyre burst is serious enough to cause a crash, the question we should answer is do all tyre burst lead to the kind of outcome we got from this crash?
Still on tyre, most likely, after crash inspection revealed wrong tyre installation, to what degree could this have contributed to the crash? Maybe not! What is the consequence of wrong tyre installation? Wrong installation of directional tyres can only expose vehicle to poor traction in wet weather. There was no mentioning of bad the weather or slippery road condition before the crash? Oh! It looks like there are more questions to ask.
Speed, very common claim of most crashes not only in Nigeria. The driver was driving too fast, how fast, at what speed? How do we arrive at this conclusion? Is it a standard of assumption or scientific? Reports do not provide basis of inference. It is known that speed increases risk of a crash, is it possible to have this type of crash even at speed below the legal limit? How strong was the wind at this time? What factors conspired to make the crash happen? Was there any investigation before coming up with the facts in the public domain or personnel who go for rescue make personal judgement of what they feel led to a crash and develop report around it?
Driver, some of the outcomes of the investigation in this incident are more logical, comical than scientific.The height of them has to do with the driver not in possession of a valid licence (name not found in the national driver licence database). It is less considerable to think that a valid licence would do any magic in that circumstance other than a driver who knows what to do, or do you think not possessing a valid licence caused the crash? While it may be difficult to validate driver’s claim to wanting to renew licence upon expiration, it will be noteworthy if our licence process can be less cumbersome and efficient; such that gives legitimate citizen opportunity to do the right thing.
Seat belt, among the causes mentioned was non-usage of seat. Seat belts do not prevent crashes. It will only reduce the impact/severity of the consequence to the occupants; hence, it could not have been the cause of the crash. More so, FRSC do not have the moral justification to indict deceased for not using seat belt, as a major role payer in safety advocacy, seat belt usage by rear passengers has never been advocated nor emphasized before this incident, neither being enforced.
The last highlight of the report was unavailability of communication devices between personnel in the back up vehicle and Minister’s vehicle. What will radio communication to do an under inflated tyre in the middle of the road? It won’t replace vehicle pre-trip inspection. Radio communication is not the only available technique to establish or send signal in a convoy driving, where is the use of lights, horn or combination of both?
It is my opinion that we deserve more than is reported as it did not unearth the system failure that contributed to the crash and how such can be mitigated. An under inflated tyre could lead to a tyre blow out, Driver without valid licence and unavailability of communication devices are far from the cause, over speeding increase the potential for a crash and severity though pre-crash speed of the vehicle is not known.
In conclusion, what should be our take home? Crash investigation should be such that do not only consider the “tip of the iceberg” but unravel the submerged massive ice body that wreck the titanic. It should be such that presents the opportunity to unveil, firstly, what are we not doing right than who’s not doing what right! Is there a road design error at the location where crash occurred? Is the location a crash hot spot?
Do people with valid licence still crash? If yes, what system (policy) do we have that mandates driver’s periodic education? How do we intend to advance advocacy without making it sound like a propaganda? Is there opportunity to deepen our research and data gathering on the road through available technologies? If this is an investigation to a Minister’s crash, need not to wonder why we hardly investigate road crashes nor report them. Investigation is not cheap, resources must be committed to mine the benefits it holds for crash prevention.
How many more promising lives should we wait to lose to preventable road crashes, there are opportunities to save lives, if we need to commit to a more holistic balanced advocacy and re-engineering of our processes and systems. It is my submission that we killed the Late Minister, we kill our people and still killing because of our lethargic institutional approach, weak policies and cumulative government negligence.