Road Traffic Accidents in The Gambia: A Public Health Concern

By Awa Sowe


The impact of road traffic injuries could be enormous, affecting societies and individuals in different facets. Despite the prominence of Covid-19 disease in the current public health space, road crashes remain an important contributor to mortality. It is estimated that some 1.4 million people die from road crashes globally, with most of these being the youth, and people from developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic accidents (RTA). Narrowing down the statistics to The Gambia, the WHO published data in 2018 ranked The Gambia as 4th in the world with highest RTA related deaths, as the country registered 4.72% of total deaths.

In Gambia, 72 persons out of every 1000 population, suffered from grievous bodily injury, and close to 8 of the same population died from Road Traffic Accidents over the past decade. More than 60% of road traffic fatalities occurred in children and young persons under 35 years of age.

With these harrowing statistics, time has come to dearly pay attention to the realities on the ground. It is not a battle to be left for just the traffic police rather; here is a battle for everyone who values LIFE!

The burden of road crashes in Gambia requires a conscientious and multi-sectoral approach to reduce its occurrence and impact, while policies need strengthening and enforcing at all levels. The impact of RTAs may be mitigated by efficient emergency systems as well as policies which support care of victims. However, at the primary level, implementation of traffic rules and regulations is key, as discussions on road and vehicle safety are broadened. Road safety should be of concern to all stakeholders, as both motorists and pedestrians are at risk of the hazards of road crashes.

Economic losses

Aside the mortality and morbidity associated with the road crashes, Gambian households spend an average of US$ 1687.65 directly and indirect cost on severe injuries associated with road crashes, while many suffer considerable degrees of psychological distress.

Speaking to the commissioner of police mobile traffic King Colley, he said statistically, The Gambia registered its worst road accidents in 2020. “From the year 2000 to 2019, The Gambia registered 1,120 road accidents out of which 84 were fatal. In 2020 alone, the country registered 775 road accidents out of which 123 were fatal. If you look at these statistics, the country registered its worst road traffic accidents in 2020”, he affirmed.

I hope these alarming figures have stirred an interest in you to tighten your waist belt in the combat against road traffic accidents.


Common causes of road traffic accidents

There are a number of risk factors that lead to road traffic accidents all of which cannot be listed herein. However, below is an enumeration of the most common causes that sometimes send us into mourning for our loved ones:

Mr Bekai kanyi, Road safety officer at the directorate of Transport under Ministry of Transport Works and Infrastructure explained that his unit basically looks into the safety of all road users as they are mandated to reduce the number of accidents within the country. The unit, he said, is divided into two components; one charged with the institutional framework, and the different committees that work on road safety and coordinate those committees.

Mr Kanyi said the engineering aspect lies within NRA but among the key activities his unit does,  is sensitize the general public on traffic road accidents  and  the number of fatalities which is  on the high. He said the blame cannot be put on one institution, as we all have to come together to put a stop to this menace .

On the issue of drivers over speeding Mr. Kanyi said that drivers are the  ones handling the steering wheel, they are in control, their behavior matters a lot as behavior brings about over speeding , reckless driving, and  distracted driving with the used of mobile phones and also not adhering to traffic rules and signs.

According to Kanyi research has shown that over speeding is the leading cause of traffic road accidents. The speed of the vehicle matters a lot as the speed determines the impact of happens to the vehicle next, over speeding is very dangerous and it is what killing people on daily basics.

On Distracted driving  He said distraction definitely come in various forms. It could be over thinking on something whilst driving, losing oneself in a conversation, or even being glued to a mobile phone. Mobile phones especially increase the risk of RTAs and might considerably affect one’s ability to apply brakes, pay attention to traffic signs, or even maintain the correct lane.

He went on to mention that his ministry will be embarking on sensitization  programme to schools on road safety  and the use of road traffic signs to create responsiveness and better understanding of the roads and different signs. 

On the speed limit kanyi  said that , There are speed limits for residential areas, hospital zones, school zones and market areas and drivers should put all this into consideration.

“We did a mini survey to determine the availability of traffic signs, they are in the process of procuring those traffic signs  and whenever they are available it will be on the roads  as traffic signs dictates  the traffic”. Kanyi noted

He highlighted that his ministry also procured brutalizes to pit in the mouth of the driver  to know whether the driver is intoxicated or not  and speed raiders  for the police as their  capacities also needs to be upgraded

“Sometimes they cannot report on certain issues because they don’t have the capacity to do that, as a police officer you cannot charge someone with over speeding when you don’t know the speed he/ she is driving at

On the issue of proper infrastructure and Road conditions Kanyi pointed out that inconvenient roads such as those with potholes have their fair share of contribution towards road traffic accidents. The government should definitely look into this and communities within their own capacity should equally give a helping hand for the betterment of all.

The Gambia we have narrow roads with single lane further asking government to help widened the road to avoid coalition on the roads. “NRA is doing well but road construction is very expensive that is why most governments look for funds outside”

“We need to improve standards, to avoid the issue of mix traffic which is a problem in The Gambia,   as in developed countries there are lanes for   cyclers, ambulances  and  trucks , if traffic is separated  it will reduce of the issues we are face with”

In conclusion he said enforcing the said laws is definitely the other. The wearing of seat-belts or helmets, adherence to speed limits, improper U-turns etc are traffic laws that shouldn’t be compromised come what may. Traffic users shouldn’t be allowed to perceive that traffic laws are fragile for this becomes the beginning of reckless driving. Until laws are enforced, they lack the ability to influence the behaviors of the people.

Mr Omar Ceesay President of The Gambia Transport union(GTU) said the impact of over speeding on RTAs cannot be overemphasized. There is a speed limit applicable in different situations but certain drivers barely pay any regard to this. Many would give the excuse of being in a hurry but it’s better to arrive late than to arrive injured or dead.

A Survey conducted by Gambia Transport union reveals speeding as main causes of road accidents 

He said the union is concerned by the spate of road traffic accidents in the country, which has claimed many innocent and young lives.

According to Mr Ceesay as the main umbrella transport body in The Gambia, the GTU calls on all road users, be it the drivers, pedestrians, riders and roadside residents to be mindful and be responsible when on the road so that accidents can be averted.

 “a driver who is speeding at 100 miles is not only posing a threat to his life but those he carries in the vehicle as well. Thus, there is a great need to avoid dangerous driving.”

On Attitude of traffic users, Mr ceesay explained that day-to-day traffic isn’t just about the traffic polices and the vehicle drivers; it extends by far to pedestrians, passengers, cyclists, motorists, etc. Even the petty traders by the road sides are not exempted. Every user of the road has a part to play and at some point, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to be “self appointed” traffic polices in an effort to save lives. We must realize that abiding by traffic rules and regulations is for the safety of ourselves and not the traffic police. As the saying clearly states, “the life you save might be your own”.

He further explained that a committee is constituted, “operation stop road accidents” and this committee comprises of NRA officials, Police, ministry of works , health ministry etc who are tirelessly working to ensure that road accidents are curb .

Driving under the influence alcohol or abusive substances Mr  Ousman Saidy Bah public Relations Officer drug and law enforcement agency (DLEA) said that  Driving remains an art for the stable minded. The technicalities and concentration needed could only be given by someone who is sober enough. Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is nothing sort of a civilized form of suicide.

He said of the accidents drivers are under the influence of drug which mainly causes Fatality . “A life is precious and if we could just prevent or at least decrease to a great extent the loss of lives due to RTAs, then we could be proud to say we’ve achieved a lot. Fatal accidents do claim lives such as those of pregnant women and innocent children, and anyone would agree with me that these leave the family of victims in the arena of psychological trauma for a very long time. This indirectly has an impact on the country’s health status” he posited

 He said Sometimes, RTAs might not necessarily be fatal but they could leave victims with serious injuries that deteriorate the quality of their lives. Some might be lucky to get treatment and take another chance at life but others have no choice than to remain handicapped for the rest of their lives. This in itself is a psychological trauma that is worth avoiding by all means.

Preventive measures of road traffic accidents

Putting in measures to tackle RTAs is a collective responsibility to which no one is an exception. It is not a task to be limited to one group whilst the other only keeps playing a blame game. Therefore, the following points must be given due consideration:

 Education and awareness: According to Mrs Yassin Gillen Senor engineer at NRA  said that Speaking up has and will always remain an essential tool to reach out to as many people as possible. Adding that We must be willing to take advantage of every opportunity given to educate the general public about RTAs and their numerous consequences. Charity begins at home so sensitization should actually begin within our families first and then to the general public. Your speaking up might save the next life on the line!

 She further explained that the authority has been doing radio programmes to talk to the public on road safety adding that the sign boards are available but at times drivers tend to just ignore them

NRA is trying other robust solutions such as the use of electronic sign boards speed on hot spot areas for vehicles to be able to reduce their speed.

To sum it up, Traffic polices, should help with safety, license the right people, allow the right vehicles, reprimand the defaulters, and protect the public to the best of your abilities.

Change of attitude: To every road user, we are supposed to be in this together! Defaulting traffic laws just because you can and would probably get away with it only portrays a poor mindset. You might not be the direct victim, but someone you love may pay the price of your recklessness. So please, let’s do what is expected of us in traffic and politely correct one another when there is a need. Anger and bashing one another has barely ever been a solution.

To conclude, we must all be vigilant and refrain from being abusers of “it is/was an accident”. Frankly enough, some of these “accidents” are simply results of carelessness and could be avoided with the right measures put in place. It all begins with US as a nation!