Today I want to share the story of the tragic end of Sukanmi. He was just 18 when he started understudying his father’s one-man transport business. When he was 25, his father died after battling an ailment. The father’s death left Sukanmi as heir to the transport business that had suffered too many hiccups. However, he did pretty well until one black Saturday. On that day, Sukanmi drove to the park, conducted his early morning prayers, went through the daily routine of checking the state of his vehicle, loaded his bus with commuters and set out on a trip he hoped would not be his last before bequeathing same business to his own son. About 30 minutes after he left the park, a passenger noticed the zigzag movement of the vehicle and raised alarm. Sukamnmi lost control of the vehicle, which rammed into a tree. Miraculously all the passengers alighted. Then someone observed that the driver had his head bowed on the steering. After making frantic efforts, the male passengers succeeded in pulling him out of the wrecked vehicle. He was bleeding profusely, lifeless. An autopsy conducted later confirmed him dead as a result of complications arising from diabetes.
His tragic death was one of the numerous stories told during a special public rally jointly organized by the Federal Road Safety Corps under my watch and the Shell Petroleum Development Company tagged, “Health in Motion Beyond the Road,” which was meant to bring health care to the door steps of drivers as part of the corporate social responsibility of the FRSC. The program provided medical care on various health challenges such as malaria, typhoid, diabetes, glaucoma, cataract, maculopathy, hypertension, high cholesterol, gastric and duodenal ulcers among others. Drugs for various ailments were provided as well as free reading glasses for those deserving of them after diagnosis by optometrists, while mosquito nets were equally distributed to nursing mothers and pregnant women.
The result which I hope to focus on someday were eye openers and this has compelled us to seek ways of extending this novel campaign to other states such as Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom with the support of Shell with the hope that a culture of health awareness will be instilled in the psyche of drivers as a plank for promoting sound health for drivers.
While we await the outcome of the one-day programme, I don’t know what your story or experience has been as a driver or a commuter. I also do not know for how long you have been driving, whether as a private car owner or professional driver, who is always on the road. I am at a loss at the policy or structure put in place by most organizations to promote a healthy culture for drivers although I know for certainty that this culture is a must in multinational organizations and in some big players in the transport sector. But do you know that there are health implications for being on the wheels daily especially against the backdrop of the increasing traffic gridlock in most cities that today compel people to do almost everything in their cars.
According to stand up comedian, Basket Mouth, traffic in most cities such as Lagos is so bad that people will do almost anything in their cars such as buying food ingredients to make a dish, making up in the cars for ladies running red lights, reading the newspaper, eating breakfast, shaving, and talking on cell phones while driving. These practices are common and dangerous including the craze to drive and watch television while on motion. Obstacles and bad drivers are just some of the many hazards we face on the high-speed battleground called commuting.
But seriously, do you know that there are health hazards associated with driving? I am not talking about accidents. I am talking about the stress placed on your mind and body that occurs with road rage, eye fatigue and night blindness, road fatigue, multitasking and pollution among others. Because of the increasing spate of crashes involving articulated vehicles, let me first begin this focus on the health hazards faced by this group of drivers.
Even on a normal day, driving can have dangerous effects on your health. Before I do so, let me inform you that all categories of drivers suffer from the biggest health hazards of multitasking that can kill. These hazards include distraction in particular, telephoning, disciplining children, and teen drivers interacting with their friends. Today’s drivers are too confident, boasting of years of experience and competence, forgetting that they need to understand the limits to their concentration. Research findings demonstrate that there are limits to one’s ability to multitask. They found that even when people perform tasks that utilize different parts of the brain, doing them at the same time sucks away brainpower. To perform two different tasks at once, you have to switch from one set of mental processes used in the first task to another set used in the second. Scientists call this “goal switching.” When you switch tasks, the rules that govern the second task have to be activated, and when your mind is occupied by the first task, switching can take almost a second — long enough to cause a serious accident. That one-second distraction contributes to the 42,000 people killed on the road each year and the $250 billion annual injury cost of commuting in the United States of America. As at the time of this piece I couldn’t reach out to get data on our clime.
Let me now talk about trucks and truck drivers. Do you know that car drivers cause most truck-car accidents? Because trucks take longer to stop or turn, you must keep a wider separation. But this is not the case as we daily see smaller car drivers struggling for ownership of road space with the drivers of heavy-duty trucks. We forget that despite the nuisance value we place on some truck drivers, they play vital roles in the chain of moving stuff to us. Truck driving is too demanding with attendant occupational stress, in addition to the struggle to keep fit and eat well.
There are some health complications that commonly affect truck drivers. The first is sleep deprivation, which has severally featured on this page. Sleep is crucial for performing duties as a truck driver. It’s dangerous to drive down the road when you haven’t had enough rest all in the name of making ends meet, and it can have a damaging effect on your career if you get caught. Sleep deprivation can lead to complications like memory loss, weight fluctuations, sleep paralysis and high blood pressure. It can also weaken the immune system.
Another health hazard is obesity, which is a common health issue among truck drivers. It is common to see truck drivers looking like malnourished body builders because of the temptation after a hard day’s work to seek comfort with diet such as pounded yam and plenty meat topped up with bottles of alcohol. This lifestyle is dangerous but can be checked through regular exercise and balanced diet. I am not talking about strenuous exercise, it could just be taking some laps around your truck, walk around the parking lot or even doing some jumping or lifting some tools in the cab of your truck. What you eat is also very crucial and I must confess that it is scary seeing a truck driver eat; they eat massively without recourse to what is healthy. It is important to eat well and stay fit, because obesity can lead to further health complications, like heart attacks.
Heart attacks are a health complication that can stem directly from obesity. Although medical experts say you do not have to be overweight to have a heart attack, but not maintaining a healthy lifestyle can certainly increase your chances of suffering from one. They also tell us that knowing the signs of a heart attack is vital to prevent one; they include chest discomfort and pressure, pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, and light headedness are all warnings of a heart attack. As a driver, you should prevent heart attacks by exercising, eating healthy, and keeping your blood pressure down.