Tips for safe driving in Sierra Leone during the festive season
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 December 2016
If you look at the pages of the newspapers in most African countries today, one will notice the high rate of road accidents, especially during the festive seasons.
The main cause is that there is an increase in pedestrian movement, vehicle traffic, and a proliferation of street traders on the road – all trying to make extra income to satisfy the needs of their families.
This is also the time when people are traveling to their home towns, chiefdoms and villages. There is also the tendency for people being absent minded at this time, especially if they are wondering about how to succumb to the many requests from family and friends who also want to share the Christmas spirit or welcome the New Year with a bang.
So if you are a driver in any of our African towns or cities, this is a time for you to apply all your safe driving and accident prevention skills.
Another point to note is that Christmas and the New Year is a period when a number of Sierra Leoneans living in Europe and North America return home to celebrate with family and friends.
Many of these returnees have worked hard throughout the year, some doing laborious jobs in factories, restaurants and care homes to raise enormous amount of money to reach home to their families and friends and give thanks to their God for providence and good health.
But it is not uncommon for an average returnee from the USA to spend almost US$ 4,000 for this annual pilgrimage to their ancestral home. Returnees can be easily spotted by their style of dressing and the rate at which they perspire under the hot burning sun, having left winter behind for at least two weeks.
They will also want those at home not only to join them in spending their hard earned cash, but also admire their new found accent acquired from the necessity to be understood by their co-workers in their countries of adoption.
Returnees also have the tendency to either rent cars or use those of their relatives and friends as their main mode of transport. This is because of the poor quality of the available public transport and the dangers of using motorcycle taxis ridden by untrained and uninsured operators.
For those who choose to drive during this season, they should be prepared to be on the alert, especially when using roads that are poorly lit at night without any clearly marked directional signs and, or road markings; navigating through mixed traffic on narrow roads consisting of street traders/hawkers, handcart pushers, and looking for non-existent parking space.
There is also the problem of dealing with the overzealous Policeman who is ready to read the Riot Act, especially when he spots a novice driver.
The Returnee on the other hand will want to impress him with a fake American or cockney accent, which is not only intimidating but gives the Policeman the territorial advantage by quoting some obscure law followed by the obvious remark: “…….this is Sierra Leone and you have to respect our law”. Such a remark is an invitation for negotiation. To avoid all this I have decided to share with you – the Home Visitor; JC or Returnee my 10 Tips for Safe Driving.
Here are my 10 tips for keeping safe and/or to avoid arrest during this season if you a Driver from Europe and/or America:
(1) Before Driving a Car check that the car has the correct registration, insurance and roadworthy certificate
It is an offence in Sierra Leone to Drive Someone’s car without permission. You can also face the law if the car is not insured or you don’t have a vehicle inspection certificate
(2) Check you have a valid licence and it allows you to drive in Sierra Leone and the Insurance policy of the owner covers you for damages as an authorized driver
A driving licence issued under the corresponding provisions of any law in force in any other country may be recognized in Sierra Leone, provided the holder of the licence is authorized to drive a motor vehicle of that description or class (SLRTA para 19)
(3) Your car must have safety equipments when in use in Sierra Leone
Every motor vehicle must be equipped with a reflective triangle in the event of a break down, to warn approaching vehicles of the presence of the vehicle well in advance and as a distress, hazard or other warning signal. (SLRTA Para 115 (1)). The Penalty for non-compliance is a fine of Le 100,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both (para 115 (2))
(4) While on a road, your vehicle lights must be switched on from 7.00 p.m. daily
Any person who fails to comply commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le50, 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 months or to both. (STRTA Para 116(2))
(5) Safe Parking of your Vehicle – There is Prohibition of parking of motor vehicles in certain places. Apart from being liable for parking contravention you are bound to be carrying valuable documents/equipment when driving.
You must not park your vehicle wholly or partly – (a) on the verge or shoulder of a road; (b) on any land situated between two carriageways and which is not a footway; (c) on a footway; (d) on a pedestrian crossing; and (e) on a place reserved for the physically challenged. A person who commits such offences is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le250, 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or to both. (SLRTA Para 117(1))
(6) It is compulsory to wear a seat belt while driving in Sierra Leone. This is both for your safety and to comply with existing traffic regulations.
A person of 18 years or above who – (a) drives a motor vehicle on a road; or (b) sits on the front or rear seat of a motor vehicle being driven on a road, without wearing a seat belt commits an offence and is liable to summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le100, 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to both. (SLRTA Para 111)
(7) Do not drink and/or drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Although there are no alcoblow or breathalyzers in use in Sierra Leone, we still have drink driving laws. Suspected drivers can be arrested by the Police and taken for test conducted by an authorized medical practitioner
A person driving a motor vehicle on a road, who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to such a degree as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle commits an offence and is liable to summary conviction – (a) where– (i) no bodily injury; or (ii) a minor bodily injury occurs to any person other than the driver, to a fine not exceeding Le100, 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to both. (Para 128(1)).
(b) where bodily injury of an aggravated nature occurs to any person other than the driver, to a minimum fine of Le250,000 and not exceeding Le500,000 or to a term of imprisonment of not less than 1 year and not exceeding 2 years or to both; or
(c) Where death occurs, to a fine of not less than Le1,000,000 and not less than Le2,000,000 or to a term of imprisonment of not less than 3 years and not exceeding 5 years or to both. The measurement is 0.08 per cent of alcohol in your blood stream with 2 hours of operating or attempting to operate a vehicle (para 102(2))
(8) Failure to Obey Traffic Signs/Directions – Traffic signs are designed and located on the road to assist drivers to drive safely along the road
Where a traffic sign has been lawfully placed on or near a road, a person driving a motor vehicle who fails to comply with the indication given by the sign commits an offence and is liable to summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le100,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to both. (SLRTA Para Para 128(1))
(9) Careless and Inconsiderate Driving – Drivers have a responsibility to drive safely on the road and prevent accident and injury to other road users, especially pedestrians, children, the aged and people with mobility handicap.
A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road commits an offence and is liable to summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le2,000,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or to both. (SLRTA Para 101)
(10) Dealing with the Law – Powers of the Police to arrest a driver for dangerous or careless driving.
A police officer may arrest without warrant the driver of a motor who within the police officer’s view commits an offence under The Sierra Leone Road Traffic Act 2007 (SLRTA Para 89 (1))
Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a person other than a police officer may without warrant arrest any driver who in his presence drives a commercial vehicle – (a) recklessly or dangerously; (b) carelessly; or (c) while under the influence of alcohol or drug contrary to this Act. (STRTA Para 89 (2))
Any person who, when arrested under this section – (a) refuses to give his name or address or such other information; (b) gives false name or address or false information, when the information is demanded by the person effecting the arrest, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding Le50, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 months or both. (SLTRA Para 89 (3))
A person arrested under subsection (2) shall be taken to the nearest police station for interrogation and may be charged by the police with the appropriate offence.
Stay Safe This Festive Season “Road Safety is no Accident”
About the author
Victor Mengot is a Road Safety Consultant and Chartered Member of the Institution of Highways and Transportation.