Licensed to drive, receive bribe or kill?

By Buma Bronhilda Wasa*

The road network is generally very poor. License issuing officials are largely money minded and hardly bother about who is licensed to drive on these death traps called Cameroonian roads. Other officials of the Transport Ministry charged with checking driving habits alongside gendarmes are to say the very least morally bankrupt.

What one sees daily on these roads is a bazaar being acted out without recourse to humanity. Men in uniform, including army generals could be safely said to be more interested on how many times television cameras are beamed on them. It is a show when it comes to being seen on television purportedly checking ills like excessive speeding or the poor state of vehicles. But away from the lenses of the television camera, the focus is very often on collecting fines or even converting crimes into fines. And pocketing them…

Drivers and commuters alike are stressed. Booby traps are set for drivers on the highways; frivolous claims and accusations are made when television cameras are absent and routine bribes collected. They give the impression that they are clean and straightforward but that is hardly true. Many people are duped into paying those filthy bribes. You would be told that you over-sped or overtook at the wrong point or dangerously even if you were actually crawling. All sorts of thieving schemes are invented to browbeat gullible motorists into submission. Your car and/or personal documents are then confiscated until you either bribe or pay the prescribed fine against a receipt.

Road signs are either completely nonexistent or covered by thick bush very often. What passes for toll gates are a huge disgrace and embarrassment to the country’s tourism and public relations. Pot holes and gullies gape all the way to most destinations. Every now and again a minister turns up at exorbitant cost to the poor tax payer, with television cameras in tow to give the impression that he is overseeing road construction and repairs. Then the minister suspends one agency or the other that has been involved in a fatal accident.

At the so called check points and other irritating roadblocks, routine checks are carried out on who possesses a national identity card or not. Those who don’t have are made to undergo unprintable indignities, before being ordered to pay bribe money. Smooth tyres are hardly checked, let alone the roadworthiness of the automobile and the comfort of its passengers. What is also routinely checked are the right banknotes gendarmes and police collect as bribe money. A commercial driver could have some passengers travelling in the boot of his car or bonnet. He could have them on the carriage. He is asked no questions as to their safety and even the illegality of his act.

Alcohol tests are almost never conducted on drivers. When schools are about to resume, huge amounts are thrown into this scam of road safety. It goes same for the Yuletide period. There is hardly ever any case of reckless driving brought as overnights to the law courts. Licenses of erring drivers are never withdrawn. Gendarmes and police are a court onto themselves. They accuse, try and fine. For their deep pockets. It is a crying shame. We are not even talking yet of the staggering billions that are extorted from vehicle owners on the dirt paths that pass for roads monthly. Yet hardly are new roads constructed or repaired with what from all indications is systemic loot. Where are all these billions from toll gates kept?

And so as days go by, road accidents have become more common in or country notwithstanding the growth in technology, developments and civilization. Licensed drivers have now become licensed killers. People now fear travelling especially by night because of the terrible scenes they have witnessed or heard of. Road accidents occur for a variety of reasons. Although the drivers are to be blamed for the causes of some of these accidents, we cannot entirely blame them. Bad roads, inadequate signs on the road and faults for the head offices of transportation could also be blamed for the accidents.

I have witnessed an accident whereby, luggage from the top of a bus got loosed and fell on a bike with two passengers on the highway causing them to have serious injuries. That is a case of overloading vehicles, criminal negligence, if you will.

Another situation is issuing driving license to people who can hardly differentiate between an accelerator and a brakes pedal’ or who the issuing official has never even set eyes on. That is how much damage bribing does to the conscience and by extension to precious human lives and property. That is the nadir to which the “man know man” syndrome has sunk Cameroon.

 Let’s return to the bad roads. Accidents happen in many because of the bad roads in every area of the country. In some areas you may even find signs on the roads indicating a bend or stop and also you might not see any indicating that there is a speed brake or bump.

There is no more excitement in travelling because of the fear of being involved in very avoidable accidents. In other cases, you will find a driver driving and taking a call, texting a message and also trying to eat, drink or smoke. These are distractions that often cause horrible preventable accidents. Sometimes they reach the point of “whatsapping” and flipping through images on “facebook” while driving.

 Also, drivers spend a long time driving and as a result of that they get tired and with the tiredness, they can commit errors leading to accidents. All this, added to the gendarme and police induced stress that they encounter at multiple roadblocks on the highway.

Also heavy rains can account to a cause of accidents. When the rains are heavy, the roads become too wet cars can lose their grip on the road and slide across which could cause an accident.

In our parks we see driving who drink in the bars strategically functioning at the park while waiting for passengers and when the vehicle is loaded, they just take off… We also have the case of reckless driving. Some drivers are very reckless while driving they go on high speed, changing lanes quickly and quarreling with other drivers on the road. Driving at night is also a remote cause of road accidents. At night, you might not be able to see the road clearly which might lead to an accident.

These are some ways which we could prevent road accidents.

Firstly, get as much supervised practice in driving as possible. Before you get a license make sure you go through proper training before you take the exams for a license to be issued.

Also, make it a habit of always wearing your safety belt while in the vehicle whether as a driver or as a passenger.

Limit driving at night because of the low visibility and also when it is rainy. At night you might not be able to see the road clearly. In Cameroon, most sides and signs on the road have been covered by grass and shrubs so driving at night might lead you to an accident. When it is rainy, the roads become slippery. Driving when the roads are slippery may cause the car not to have a total grip on the ground and can slide and lead to an accident. If you must drive when it’s raining, drive slowly, with extra care.

Cell phones should be used only for emergency on the road. Talking or texting with a cell phone while driving will make you distracted while driving and can lead to an accident.

Learn to always drive the vehicle that is in total good condition. Always try to check your car on a weekly basis. When buying a vehicle, also take into consideration the high safety rating the car has.

Avoid drinking or smoking before driving. Even if you have consumed just a bottle or smoked just a stick of whatever, there is a chemical that gets into your brain which can influence your attitude and judgement on the road.

         Sometimes these are the obvious things that have the largest impact. So follow every training you are given for road safety religiously in order to avoid accidents. 

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