BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – On September 30, at least six persons died after a bus accident occurred on the Buchanan-Monrovia highway. The vehicle had been heading from Buchanan to Monrovia, and the cause of the crash is still unknown, although the bus was the only vehicle involved.
This and other recent accidents have drawn the concern of Grand Bassa residents, who are calling on the national government to employ a new strategy to deal with what they see as an increase in accidents on the highway.
The highway was rehabilitated in 2013 by CHICO, a Chinese based Construction Company, drastically reducing the travel time between Monrovia and Buchanan.
But Nathan Harris, who lives in Kroe’s Town in Grand Bassa’s first district, believes that the road now allows too many drivers to speed uncontrollably. He said drivers are pressured to increase the number of trips they make per day between Monrovia and Buchanan, and that endangers the lives of passengers.
“If you see a driver speeding with a car on this road, you will not want to ride the car anymore,” Harris said. “The issue of accidents will not stop easily except the government deploys police along the road.”
However, there are already police deployed along the road. At any checkpoint, observers are likely to see police stop violaters to extract a small bribe from them and then let them go.
Grand Bassa’s police chief superintendent, Sarkor Freeman, says the police have been doing everything possible to prevent accidents.
He said the police are currently planning a training program for commercial drivers.
Freeman said the lack of proper logistical tools, such a patrol vehicle, hampers the work of police officers in Grand Bassa.
Mary Johnson, another Grand Bassa resident, believes that the government also needs to ensure that it clears the highway of disabled vehicles.
“I think the government has to empower the police by providing heavy machines that remove trucks and other cars that will [be] involved in an accident, because at night, it poses danger to other drivers,” she said.
Johnson also drew attention to vehicles that are not roadworthy. She called on the police to prevent cars from traveling at night without lights.
Another resident, Morris Zeegar of Grand Bassa’s second district, said vehicles are often overloaded with passengers. At police checkpoints, he said those vehicles should be punished to halt the practice.
Traveling across Liberia by public transport vehicles, a common practice is for drivers of sedans to carry two passengers in the front passenger seat and four in the back. Often, those vehicles are also heavily loaded with goods.
Most vehicles plying the road leave parking stations controlled by the Federation of Road Transport Union of Liberia. The president of the Grand Bassa branch of the union, John Sweegaye, said most of the drivers taking more load or passengers than is safe are not loading from their parking station.
“The drivers have tactics; they don’t load from our parking, they load their cars on the highway. The only solution is that the police have the rule and regulations that govern all drivers, when they catch you under the influence of alcohol even driving in slippers, they should arrest you and impound the car,” he noted.
He also attributed the frequent accidents to impatient passengers getting on cars from the street rather than going to the parking station, where he says more checks are done on drivers and the condition of vehicles.
He acknowledged that several drivers in the union drive without licenses, but he said it is not the union’s responsibility to arrest them, although they can refuse to do business with them.
“The police at the gates should determine who has a license or who doesn’t have a license because it is their duty to arrest whosoever don’t have a license and fine them,” he added.
Sweegaye said most of his drivers are “war drivers,” meaning that they started driving during the war.
“Some of the drivers did not sit in the classroom to go through theory and practical; they only learned on the wheel from someone else,” he said.
“Some of them buy their own car, ask someone to teach them and they become drivers. Some were motorcyclists before in the past and were able to get cars, so they become drivers. Those are the drivers that are giving their colleagues problems. Those are the drivers that continue to make accidents on the road.”
He confirmed that because multiple drivers often share one vehicle, they are incentivized to make more trips to increase the money they make in a day.
To encourage safe driving and to reduce the rate of accidents on the road, Sweegaye said his union has written the Liberia National Police detachment in Grand Bassa to hold constant workshops with drivers.
In the past, he said 382 drivers were trained by the police.
Police noted that 63 accidents occurred along the Monrovia-Buchanan highway from January to August, resulting in 22 deaths. The accidents led to injuries to 137 persons. The accidents also involved 93 vehicles, leaving 85 damaged.
The Liberia National Police chief of traffic, Alphanso D. Bindah, recently told journalists in Grand Bassa that the county ranked third in accidents, after Montserrado and Margibi.
Featured photo by Sampson David