FRSC and the Yorkshire Ripper (2)

by Uche Ohia

Why would a motor vehicle driver booked by road marshals and whose driver or vehicle license has been seized abandon the document thereafter? This is a problem that has overwhelmed the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) because the commission tends to focus on the effect rather the cause. The cause, simply put, is that the absence of a Unified Licensing Scheme (ULS) and National Vehicles Identification Scheme (NVIS) enables just about anyone to obtain a driver’s license or set of vehicle documents. Also, the delays and rigmarole that make payment of FRSC fines an excruciating exercise at most FRSC commands encourages abandonment. A traffic offender whose papers have been seized is required to go to the office of the FRSC in the area where he was booked, obtain a bank teller, trace the designated bank, pay the fine and come back to the FRSC office with the teller before his seized documents can be released to him. For someone travelling across geo – political zones, this translates into great costs in time, money and energy far beyond the contemplation of the law.

But why is it that of all the duties vested in the FRSC by law, the one that it’s officers and men are seen to play with any frequency is that of mounting check points at obscure locations? Why should it be a principal occupation of FRSC men to stand in lonely spots and risk their lives stopping fast moving vehicles in the name of checking fire extinguishers and vehicle documents? Why does the FRSC enjoy booking road users and issuing tickets even in cases where a verbal caution would be sufficient? If the idea is to generate more revenue, then it is wrong because the FRSC, strictly speaking, is not a revenue generating body.

All over the world, the focus of road safety is how to reduce road carnage and make public roads safer for road users. This concern underlies the serious implications which, research and statistics show, road accidents have in social, health and economic terms. Recent studies even suggest that road accidents are the second most common cause of death for economically active people in many countries: the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 200 people are killed each year for each million inhabitants. For a country like Nigeria with a population of about 140 million, this immediately adds up to 28,000 fatalities per annum. But FRSC estimates put the monthly casualty figure recorded in Nigeria at 500 fatalities which adds up to 6000 fatalities per year – a figure FRSC helmsman, Osita Chidoka, described as “a national scandal”. Given the spate of reported (and largely unreported) road disasters that frequently occur in Nigeria, these figures seem like a gross underestimation.

Still, while the developed countries have in general succeeded in minimizing their annual road fatality index with such countries as Sweden already contemplating “zero option” (meaning that no serious injuries or fatalities are to be tolerated) as an official policy, Nigeria is still unable to guarantee the safety of road users. In general, our roads are prone to high fatalities, poor maintenance, inadequate patrols and delayed road emergency response. While the number of vehicles and motorcycles keep growing astronomically, there is no commensurate growth in statistical surveys, driver education, personnel training or traffic safety orientation. The reason, of course, is that our road safety funding is still borne principally by government unlike what obtains in other countries.

The FRSC Act s.9 (a) and (b) provide that the funds of the commission shall consist of allocations by the Federal Government as well as “any other sum which may become payable to or vest in the commission”. If the FRSC does not receive enough fiscal provision to enable it fulfill its statutory functions, innovative thinking should be directed at finding new ways of ensuring that the annual fiscal needs of the commission are met. The Third African Road Safety Congress held in Pretoria, South Africa (April 14-17, 1997) addressed the problem of “Financing of Road Safety Actions” and concluded that more and more African countries are recognising road safety as an economic rather than a social service. Current thinking on this subject is that road safety is a collective responsibility.

Whereas the Government is ultimately responsible for road safety policies, it is the duty of road users and stakeholders to bear the cost of operations required to lower the risk of crashes, personal and fatalities. From the experience of other countries, available options include the introduction of a Road Safety Tariff, an annual levy to be imposed in a graduated scale on motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, and heavy duty vehicles; or a Road Safety Levy, a periodic toll payable by the owner of a valid driving license without which he cannot operate a motor vehicle or motorcycle and/or renew his driving license. More importantly, funding of road safety operations in many countries is hinged on Compulsory Vehicle Insurance Return – a deduction made by every insurance company on premiums on third party and comprehensive policies sold each year. Many countries have introduced laws for insurers of compulsory third party injury liability to invest in road safety. In Nigeria, no such law exists. Still, men of the FRSC risk their lives on the highways checking vehicle “particulars” chief among which is the certificate of insurance!

The FRSC should learn to put it’s mouth where it’s heart is. If the mission of FRSC is to ensure safety on the highways, it must achieve fiscal independence but not by harassment of road users. Again, a strategy to ensure rapid emergency response with a target to achieve the Golden Hour (rescue of road accident victims within one hour of occurrence) on federal highways and Minus 30 (rescue in less than 30 minutes ) on public roads must be put in place. This will improve survival rate by up to 80%.

Back to the Yorkshire Ripper: Gerry Brown recounts in her book “The Worlds Greatest Mysteries” that at the local police station to which he was taken, Peter Sutcliffe gave no hint that he was a murderer. While he was being routinely questioned about possible vehicle licensing offences, one of the traffic officers who had arrested him remembered that he had allowed Sutcliffe get out of his car and urinate out of sight in the shadows, behind a roadside fuel tank. He returned to the scene and found a blood-stained hammer in the shadows where Sutcliffe had relieved himself. When the officer brought the evidence back to the police station, Sutcliffe quietly began to confess. The Yorkshire Ripper was unmasked not by crack detectives but by the intuition of a suspicious patrolman and the availability of a vehicle registration digital databank”.

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