By Allieu S. Tunkara
A chaotic traffic situation ensues on Bai Bureh Road just after Helena Junction in Freetown as a haulage vehicle struggles to take a curve. The safety of drivers, commercial motorists (Okada), tricycle riders as well as pedestrians was put under threat as one of the containers on the haulage was not fastened.
They struggled to give way as the heavy metal is about to descend on them. The situation is further seriously worsened as over a dozen of other haulages remain stationary on the high way. No sign exists that the vehicles would be removed there and make the place safe for traffic.
As the vehicles remain on the high way, the traffic situation is agonized but not organised as drivers and commercial motorists mooted and rained invectives as usual. The appalling situation leaves behind a number of questions on whether the country has traffic laws. But, questions on the nature of the enforcement of the laws are most paramount.
Haulage vehicles from Water Quay have come to pose the greatest threat to life in the city of Freetown. The threats have rendered these vehicles as death traps since their movement have become largely unregulated. A large number of residents have been panic stricken, but commercial motorists and tricycle riders have proved to be the most affected and hardest-hit.
Apart from the traffic congestion and discomfort they bring to the city, the fear of death is most rife among users of the highway. The containers on the haulage vehicles frequently are not tied up, and sometimes, if not most times, fall off and cause deaths. A commercial motorist, Osman Kamara who spoke expressed his anger with the manner in which the haulage vehicles carry out its movement in the city. Kamara makes it clear that the haulage vehicles are free to park anywhere and anytime making for a congested and unsafe city.
“When such vehicles park anywhere they feel like in the city, most of us [Okada riders] are badly affected as our movement is frustrated,” he said.
The unchecked movement of vehicles comes back to the police, the country’s custodians of law and order. The role of the police in the maintenance of law and order has been questioned several times owing to their negligence. Kamara alleged that police officers facilitate the traffic wrongs committed by the haulage vehicles noting that it may not be unconnected to bribes offered.
Parking vehicles on undesignated spots on the roads and highways is just one of the discomforting conditions brought about by haulage vehicles. Kamara also narrated an incident in which a container on the haulage vehicle fell on traders in the city centre, Abacha Street.
That day, Kamara said, was a tragic one as scores of traders lost their lives to the incident. Those children whose parents died on the fateful day have been rendered orphans, and those whose husbands lost their lives have been made widows and those whose wives succumbed to the incident have been made widowers.
The loss was unexpected and it constitutes one of the greatest tragedies owing to human failings. Although the incident on Abacha Street was horrific, lessons have not been learned from it as the move continues unabated. Drivers on the other side have also got a fair share of the discomfort brought along by the haulage.
Osman Sesay wasted no time in condemning the drivers of haulage vehicles owing to the nature of the discomfort and threat they pose to the city. Sesay explained that the high rate of traffic congestion in most parts of the city especially at intersections is caused by haulage vehicles.
He painted a picture of discomfort similar to Kamara’s about the waste of precious time brought about by the vehicles. Sesay also rendered an account of a situation in which he was trapped in a traffic jam at the Cline Town intersection few days back.
“The haulage vehicles wasted much of my time as it was trying to take a curve to join the main high way leading to the main Up-Gun Roundabout,” the driver explained. When such vehicles struggle to get it right on the highway, Sesay said, it creates a big problem for drivers as risk-taking in such situations may end in an untold catastrophe.
The appropriate authorities especially the law enforcement machine seem helpless in the face of the traffic disaster that hangs over the city. Before this time, the driver went on, those vehicles ply only at night when most of the commercial vehicles have gone to rest.
“With such regulation that was in place, the problem of accidents and the discomfort traffic congestions were kept an appreciable level. But, now that they have been allowed to move freely at any time at any place, the problem has started all over again,” he emphasised.
When traffic congestions occur owing to the influx of haulage vehicles especially at tight and congested streets during rush hours in the morning like Abacha Streets, many categories of workers in the public sector are affected in many ways.
Teachers who have to report in the morning cannot catch up, police officers who are required to report at 7:30am will not make it, nurses who should tend to patients in hospital will not arrive on time and the list goes on. Perpetual lateness of civil and public servants for their various duties has a corrosive effect on the level of productivity with a ripple effect on the economy.
Outside the city, haulage vehicles have proved to be most dangerous on provincial routes than even in the city. The vehicles account for a great number of road accidents in the provinces, and the trend is yet to show signs of receding. They are always prone to stopping the smooth flow of traffic along provincial routes owing to persistent breakdowns.
Road accidents are also not uncommon along such routes when the haulage vehicles occupy a greater part of the route. The discomfort the vehicles bring to provincial drivers cannot be quantified in simple terms considering the fatal accidents that take place most frequently.
A driver plying the Bo-Freetown highway, Mohamed Sannoh also gave a story not too different from other drivers in the city. He told this medium that haulage vehicles are responsible for most of the discomfort and accidents on the highways.
“They obstruct vision, and it is difficult to overtake them as the highways are narrow,” he explains. But the greatest discomfort occurs when the haulage vehicles encounter a breakdown along the route. He said most are not road worthy and the luggage they haul is above their capacity. The lack of road worthiness, Mr Sannoh says, can be seen in the nature of smoke they emit, the type of voice they produce especially when they face a hill and the sluggish and staggering movement on the highways. Those factors, he said, are enough to let you know that a particular vehicle is old.
“One does not need to a mechanical engineer,” Sannoh emphasised.
He also pointed a finger of blame to law enforcers, precisely the traffic police officers and wardens on whom the burden of preventing road accidents squarely lies.
“It does no good to have a law that is enforced or to have law enforcement personnel that are ineffective,” he sums it up.