BY MOSES AKAIGWE
The House of Representatives’ resolution halting Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC’s, planned enforcement of compulsory installation of speed limiting devices on vehicles, has continued to raise a haze of criticisms.
Adopting the motion last month, the lawmakers had rested their arguments on some points which experts say are faulty – that the use of the safety device would further impoverish the already “financially bleeding” Nigerians; enrich the vendors/suppliers with little or nothing for the government; and that the speed governor is an outdated technology that had been experimented and abandoned elsewhere.
What analysts found even more annoying than the emphasis on costs, was the erroneous claims that the device cuts off flow of fuel to the injector once the set speed is exceeded by the vehicle, and that the FRSC has no powers to introduce speed limiters and operate on state roads.
Speed governors or limiters are electronic devices installed in a vehicle to limit its top speed by not allowing the driver to accelerate beyond pre-set speed limit, thereby reducing considerably the risk of an accident occurring. This, the FRSC planned to make compulsory, starting with vehicle owners in order to reduce high rate of road crashes and the attendant fatalities. But the Representatives halted the initiative through a motion sponsored by a member.
However, road safety experts, transporters and those familiar with speed limiting systems, have decried the arguments of the lawmakers, owing mainly to what they described as the misplaced priority and stark ignorance that were evident in the debate preceding the resolution.
They stressed that placing cost above the safety of the general motoring public, at a time road users, including top government officials, legislators, military personnel, school children and other Nigerians, are among those dying every day in crashes directly and or indirectly linked to over-speeding, is irresponsible.
One of the critics is the Managing Director of ABC Transport Plc, Mr. Frank Nneji, who was shocked that the Representatives treated such a commendable initiative by the FRSC with such levity. He insisted that the matter be revisited with a view to allowing the safety body continue with the plan to curb the rate of road crashes using speed limiters as one of the measures.
Perhaps, Nneji is in the best position to comment on the speed limiting devices, because they are the ‘secret’ of the zero accident record which ABC Transport, Nigeria’s foremost road transport company, achieves year after year. And drawing from that experience last week, he affirmed that the benefits to both his company and the travelling public far outweigh the cost, urging the legislators to take a cue from that success story
Like Nneji, a safe motoring campaigner, Mr. Patrick Adenusi, is unhappy over the House of Representatives’ decision to shoot down the project, which, he lamented, showed lack of adequate knowledge on the matter by the legislators.
“The representatives should have in the beginning invited the FRSC to enlighten them before taking such a stand. The Corps put it that 24 Nigerians are killed daily in road crashes, which is far from the truth. On the average, about 100 are killed on Nigerian roads daily. And, there should be an emergency on that. So, for anybody to ignore this ugly picture is unacceptable”, Adenusi, who is a Director at Safety Beyond Borders, remarked.
The stakeholders also want those opposing the FRSC initiative to realise that the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been working in conjunction with the FRSC on the project, and apart from setting the relevant standards, the duo had approved some brands for use nationwide.
Ordinarily, education and enlightenment, training and re-training, use of speed radar guns, provision of signs and of speed calming measures in the design and construction of highways, and enforcement, are the commonly applied options to moderate speed misdemeanor, with limited results . But direct control of the vehicle speed (electronically) has become a more result-achieving strategy, hence the intention of the lead road safety agency to introduce it.
A visit to the website of Autokontrol Limited, a popular UK-based manufacturer and installer of speed control devices which varied products are widely used in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, showed that there is no version that totally cuts off fuel supply to the injector as generally alleged by the Representatives during their debate on the matter. It was also discovered on the website that the speed controls also reduce fuel consumption and emission by 20 percent, in addition to reducing maintenance costs.
Sharing FRSC’s vision on the speed limiter is PATVORA Initiative, a non-governmental body with focus on safety and a contact organisation for the World Health Organisation, WHO, which declared its stand on the issue through its Project Adviser, Chude Ojugbana: “PATVORA as an endorsee of the 2007 Accra Declaration which produced a set of known and tested measures for curbing road deaths and injuries by African road safety experts, believes that the use of speed limiters on Nigerian roads is most appropriate, and any unnecessarily delay will put Nigeria at the sad risk of increasing needless road deaths.
“In this era where governments cannot fund road safety needs alone, shared responsibility has become the modern trend and the speed limiter initiative fits well. Thus, it is considered apt for commercial drivers to invest on the safety of their passengers”.
Ojugbana, who is also the Country Ambassador, International Road Federation, Geneva, decried the undue emphasis on cost by the opponents of the device, arguing that N35, 000, is a very considerate market price given the depreciation of the naira. “And in simple arithmetic, a device of such with a life-span of six years will amount to only about a twenty naira daily expense to save the lives of passengers and this cannot lead to any financial burden on Nigerians”.
Also voting for the speed governor as a necessity, a public affairs analyst and African safe communities advocate, Phrank Shaibu, argued that whatever strategy the FRSC adopts to make the roads safe, should not be hindered by unnecessary bureaucratic bottleneck, because the many bad roads in the country have already made every road user a potential victim of road crash. “It is vital to understand that there is a direct relationship between speed and the severity of the injuries. The case of the Ocholis (late Minister of State, Labour and Employment, James Ocholi, his wife and son) is sufficient proof that requires no debate.
Calling on the House of Representatives to reinstate the project and encourage the FRSC to go on with the implementation, road safety advocates agree that the FRSC is performing its statutory function as contained in the FRSC Establishment Act and the National Road Traffic Regulation since 2004, and retained in the subsequent amendments.
In addition to recommending speed limits on the roads, a relevant sub-section of the National Road Traffic Regulation says: “All motor vehicles plying the highway shall be in possession of good electric or air horn, jack, wheel spanner, tools, fire extinguisher, inflated spare tyre, first aid box, emergency warning triangles or cones, laminated windscreen and mirror, speed governor (or speed limiter), wipers, insurance certificate and road worthiness certificate’.
Another sub-section even makes it an offence to drive a vehicle “which is not fitted with a speed limiter” on any public road.
Moreover, Section 10, Sub-Section (m) of the FRSC (Establishment)Act of 2007, clearly lists this as one of the functions of the FRSC: “Determining and enforcing speed limits for all categories of roads and vehicles and controlling the use of speed limiting devices”.
But for the resolution by the House of Representatives, the compulsory use of the speed limiter would have taken effect on April 1, 2016 with about 16 vendors providing the device and installation services. The new date was preceded by two postponements, from June 1 and September1, 2015 (to allow both the providers and vehicle owners enough time to prepare).
At a meeting with the representatives of the 16 companies accredited by the SON for the installation of the devices early in January this year, FRSC Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi, explained that the agency had no pecuniary interest, but was desirous of strictly enforcing the policy in order to achieve the expected drastic reduction in the rate of road traffic crashes.
“In 2014, it was particularly revealed that speed accounted for about 50.8 percent of the causes of road traffic crashes in the country, which, if contained could automatically reduce the rate of crashes”, Oyeyemi stated. “That is why the relevant stakeholders in concert with the SON resolved on practical measure to address the challenge by introducing speed limiting devices, which FRSC would strictly enforce based on the presidential directive”.