Road Safety in Africa

Ola Orekunrin, a trauma doctor and managing director of air ambulance service Flying Doctors Nigeria.

She wrote an article last week discussing the lack of emergency treatment available for road accidents in Africa.

It’s hard to believe, but in her home country of Nigeria (with more than 170 million people), they have no organized trauma response system or formal training for paramedics.

If you’ve traveled to Africa, you’ve probably seen on the roadsides the remnants of cars and trucks involved in crashes. Much of the time, the vehicles remain there for weeks if not months at a time, especially in rural areas.

Car accident in Ghana in 2009

I drove past this accident in Ghana in 2009:

I’ve told my volunteers going to volunteer in Africa and other developing places the same thing for over a decade — consider road accidents one of your greatest dangers.

The things the media and State Department focus on — like terrorism, political upheaval and infectious disease — rarely happen to travelers. (Americans are 9 times more likely to be killed back home by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.)

Another Ghana accident I drove by:

Car Accident in Volta Region, Ghana

Car Accident in Volta Region, Ghana

I’ve never been injured or even involved in a road incident. Some of this is blind luck, as I’ve had some close calls. But I like to think that the road safety tips I follow and give out to volunteering clients have helped. Here they are:

As a passenger in any vehicle

    • No overnight travel
    • Never sit in the front seat — most accidents are head-on
    • Wear seat belts when avaible
    • Do not take private, unlicensed taxis or cars
    • Never ride on the outside of any vehicle
    • No motorcycles / scooters (as driver too)

As a pedestrian

    • Assume vehicles will not stop for you — they have the right of way
    • There are sometimes no sidewalks — be careful in the road
    • There are often open sewers — look down often
    • Stay out of the road at night (especially with bad street lighting)
  • Jogging can be very dangerous due to traffic and uneven surfaces