The Liberian government has installed traffic lights in the capital Monrovia for the first time since the 1990 civil war. The Liberia Transport Union says the lights will help regulate traffic and reduce the accident rate in the country. Installing the lights is one thing, but getting drivers to obey them is another.
The World Health Organization says the majority of the 1.24 million people who die in traffic accidents worldwide each year die in Africa - where poor driving conditions and weak safety laws and enforcement contribute to the high accident rates. Lack of emergency medical care and specialized treatment for accident-related injuries, such as head trauma, only aggravate the situation.
“Every day accidents are reported across Liberia. What we see is that the drivers drive recklessly. And so, in our wisdom, we thought as a way to regulate traffic was to bring in traffic lights,” explained Maxwell Darpue, the director of the Liberia Transport Union.
Two dozen traffic lights were turned on in Monrovia in January. The new lights are solar-powered, as electricity remains a problem throughout the country.
This is the first time drivers have had to contend with the forced stop-go since before the 1990 civil war.
Policeman Thomas Kieh said he has seen a difference in his district since the traffic lights were installed.
“Before the traffic lights came, we used to have three to four accidents every day," he said. "But since the traffic lights were installed, it has been reduced to not more than two. The drivers are adhering to the rules and regulations. The traffic lights are very helpful for Liberia.”
But not everyone is happy with the new lights.
Peter Smith, a local bus driver, said they just slow people down.
“Well, it is annoying, because most of the time when you are in a rush in the traffic, the traffic lights delay you and you often miss your appointments and your important meetings," he complained."So I don’t see the traffic lights being that necessary for now. I think the government must explore different means to regulate the traffic instead of bringing the traffic lights. We already don’t have good roads. With the traffic lights, it will delay a lot of operations.”
Melecki Khayesi, a technical officer for the WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, said traffic lights can be an effective means of regulating traffic and reducing the number of crashes, but that the lights alone are not adequate.
“The traffic lights are just one of the many measures that need to be put in place. The most important factor to consider is traffic lights in relation to enforcement of the road safety culture, and to then make sure that drivers, as well as pedestrians, as well as other road users, can actually respect the traffic lights," Khayesi said.
Some drivers in Liberia continue to take matters into their own hands.
“These drivers are very stubborn. They are still overtaking the traffic," noted Monrovian resident Lorpu Tonie. " They don’t observe the traffic rules. Just yesterday, there was a serious accident and some people got killed. So the police need to strengthen these new traffic laws.”
Monrovia’s police spokesman, Sam Collins, says officers are aware of drivers not obeying the traffic lights and that any driver found to be violating the lights will be fined. He said penalties start at around 500 Liberian dollars -- about $7 (US) -- but can be higher depending on the severity of the violation.
Liberia’s Federation of Road Transport Union says it is currently hosting brush-up courses for drivers to teach them to obey the signals. The Liberian police department say they are also launching a public awareness campaign to educate people about the importance of stopping at red lights.
Collins noted there are plans currently in place to install traffic lights in other large cities throughout Liberia within the coming months.