Better vision for safer roads: an instance of accidental advocacy in Nigeria
While former MSc student Barka David Lass was testing the vision of commercial drivers at a minibus station (or ‘park’) in Jos, Nigeria, in July 2007, he was spotted by a television crew, there to film a news insert on lost property. The producer was so taken by Lass’s research (conducted for his MSc dissertation summarised on page 71) – that an interview with him was broadcast on national news the very same day.
Nigeria has seen a five-fold increase in the number of deaths due to traffic accidents over the last twenty years. The interview with Lass highlighted the fact that, although drivers have to satisfy a minimum legal requirement for visual acuity in Nigeria, not even the vision of commercial drivers is routinely tested before licences are issued.
After the news item, Lass was invited to participate in a television programme on vision and safe driving, broadcast by the Plateau Radio Television Corporation. Other participants included representatives of the Vehicle Inspection Office and of the Federal Road Safety Commission.
The participants talked about the definition of vision, how to assess it, and what constitutes good vision for driving. Other topics included the high number of road traffic accidents in Nigeria, the relationship between vision and accidents, and the various laws and penalties related to vision and driving. The programme was watched in over six states and in the federal capital territory of Nigeria.
The following recommendations were put forward at the end of the discussion:
- all commercial vehicle drivers applying for a licence should undergo a comprehensive eye exam, conducted by an ophthalmologist
- all commercial vehicle drivers should have their vision tested before their driving licences can be renewed (every four years)
- staff of the Federal Road Safety Commission and of the Vehicle Inspection Office should be trained to assess vision, so that they can carry out periodic checks on drivers.
Since his return to Nigeria after completing his MSc at the International Centre for Eye Health in London, Lass has met with the producer of the programme; together, they are working on ways to ensure that these recommendations are carried out.