Dysfunctional Street and Traffic Lights: Where are the City Authorities?

Online; Business and Financial Times (B&FT), July 13, 2023

By Shadrack Nii Yarboi Yartey

In every thriving city, the smooth flow of traffic is an essential factor for both economic growth and public safety. One crucial element that ensures this orderly movement of vehicles and pedestrians is an efficient and well-maintained network of street and traffic lights.

These vital road infrastructural components guide traffic, regulate intersections, and maintain a harmonious balance between transportation modes. However, in recent times, an alarming rise in dysfunctional street and traffic lights has become a pressing concern, leaving citizens to question the whereabouts and effectiveness of city authorities.
The malfunctioning of street and traffic lights not only disrupts the daily lives of commuters but also poses significant risks to public safety.

The Nighttime Hazard
A ride through major parts of the city especially in the evening is astounding. Many areas within Accra, Tema, Kasoa and its environs are plagued with the absence or non-operational street and road traffic lights. A worrying trend that jeopardizes the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, leading to an increase in crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Nighttime driving inherently presents challenges due to reduced visibility. As night falls, roadways become engulfed in darkness, severely compromising visibility and exacerbating the risks associated with traveling after sundown. According to recent statistics from the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), inadequate street lighting contributes to over 30% of road crashes. This staggering figure highlights the urgent need for attention and intervention to address this critical road safety issue.

Although government charges a 1% street lighting levy on all domestic electricity sales to fund the operation and maintenance of street lights, it seems the monies collected are not used for its purpose. The absence of non-functioning street lights obscures important visual cues, such as road markings, traffic signs, and potential obstacles, rendering navigation difficult and increasing the likelihood of crashes. Now, because of the dereliction of the state in lightening the streets and roads, individuals are no installing street lights in their neighborhoods to improve safety especially in the evening.

Crash Rates
The impact of non-functioning streetlights on road safety is evident in the rise in crash rates. Studies have consistently demonstrated a strong correlation between inadequate street lighting and increased traffic crashes.

The Ghana Statistical Service reports that pedestrians’ knockdowns account for nearly 40% of road fatalities, with inadequate lighting playing a significant role in these tragic incidents. Statistics from the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service also reveal a distressing reality, with approximately 30% of road crashes in the country occur during the night and at dawn. This staggering figure highlights the urgent need to address the issue to curb these preventable crashes and save lives.

The absence of proper lighting does not only affect drivers’ ability to perceive potential hazards but also hampers their judgment in assessing speed and distance, significantly escalating the chances of collisions.
Economic Burden

Beyond the human toll, non-functioning street lights also impose a substantial economic burden. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that road crashes cost the country 1-2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually, underscoring the economic implications of inadequate road safety measures.

Crashes resulting from inadequate lighting contribute to property damage, medical expenses, and insurance claims, placing a strain on individuals and families affected by the crash. Moreover, crashes often lead to traffic congestion, causing delays and disrupting the smooth flow of commerce. The cost of repairs and maintenance for damaged infrastructure further burdens already stretched Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) budgets.

It is clear that addressing this issue is not merely a matter of road safety but also a pressing economic concern.

Insecurity and Criminal activities
In addition to its direct impact on road safety, non-functioning street lights contribute to a pervasive sense of insecurity. It creates an opportune environment for criminal activities, such as theft, assault, and vandalism to thrive. Obviously, darkness offers anonymity to wrongdoers, thereby, increasing the fear factor and deterring individuals from venturing out at night. This, in turn, negatively impacts social and economic activities.

Moreover, areas with poorly lit streets are often seen as havens for criminal activity, exacerbating many residents’ concerns about personal safety. Addressing non-functioning street lights, therefore, is essential to fostering vibrant and secure communities.

The Way Forward
Addressing this issue requires a coordinated effort involving the Ministry of Roads and Highways, local authorities, and utility companies to ensure the timely repair and regular inspection of street lights. Timely disbursement to private contractors who have engaged to provide and maintain streetlights.
Local authorities who have been tasked with maintenance and sustainability of street-light ought to prioritize regular maintenance and prompt repairs at all times. Monies collected from the citizenry must be used for the purpose for which it was accrued. Implementing a comprehensive monitoring system that promptly identifies and addresses non-functioning lights can go a long way in preventing crashes and ensuring road safety.

By engaging with businesses and organizations, government can tap into additional resources and expertise to improve street lighting infrastructure effectively. Collaborating with energy companies can also help to explore renewable energy sources, such as solar-powered street lights, offering a sustainable solution to the power supply challenges.

Non-functioning street lights represent a peril road safety concern that demands immediate attention. Although other behavioral risk factors contribute to road crashes, fatalities and injuries, the impact of inadequate illumination on crash rates, pedestrian vulnerability, crime rates, and the economy is profound and far-reaching. Government ought to take actionable steps to address this pressing issue without delay.

The writer is a development professional with CUTS International, Accra. For more information visit www.cuts-accra.org or email sny@cuts.org.

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