Crisis on wheels: Three-seater autorickshaw carries seven passengers on Savelugu-Tamale road

Yellow Yellow

Autorickshaw, a three-seater tricycle commonly known as “yellow yellow”, “pragia” or “Mahama camboo”, conveys seven persons from Savelugu to Tamale at a go.

On the 25.8 kilometers Savelugu to Tamale stretch in the Northern Region, autorickshaws, which are originally designed to carry two persons and the operator to make a total of three, were spotted by the Ghana News Agency (GNA), carrying seven persons.(fare paying-passengers)

The three-wheeled vehicles crammed four persons in front, three at the back while the vehicles swung unsteadily on the bumpy road, as the operators tried to overtake other vehicles.

This is witnessed on a road used by heavy duty trucks as well as long distance buses.

The overloaded autorickshaws at some point crawled onto the shoulders of the road meant for pedestrians to make way for speeding bigger vehicles that honked at them, approaching on top speed.

About Autorickshaw

An utorickshaw is a three-wheel motorised vehicle, well known as “yellow yellow” in Northern Ghana, as “pragia” and “Mahama camboo in other parts of the country.

It is designed for transporting people and characterised by its compact size and distinctive structure, and typically features a cabin for passengers with an open or semi-enclosed area for the driver, and one wheel in the front, with two wheels at the rear.

Most autorickshaws are powered by small, fuel-efficient engines that run on petrol or diesel.

The external part is categorised by vibrant and noticeable colours whilst the passengers’ seats are arranged in a bench-like fashion within the cabin to accommodate two passengers, with the entry and exit facilitated by a collapsible flap to make boarding and alighting convenient for passengers.

Autorickshaws come in separated parts that are assembled systematically in a process of mounting the engine and transmitting onto the framework attaching the wheels, connecting the suspension system and fitting the body frame, cabin, and driver’s compartment to ensure that the vehicle is structurally and functionally safe for transportation.

The resilience of these vehicles in crash crisis are questionable as compared to cars and buses owing to their nature. Operators, however, do not relent in loading more than the vehicle’s capacity as they get into competition with stronger vehicles on the road.

In the Northern Region, most autorickshaws, if not all, have an extension of the front seat to enable two additional passengers.

This is done by putting a sizable flat wood across the operator’s seat or welding a seat-shaped metal on the left and right sides of the operator’s seat.

Overloading these vehicles have been normalised so much that operators loading at designated stations refuse to move their vehicles unless there are passengers in the front.

More dangers posed by the autorickshaw business in region is that some of its operators are young boys below 18 years of age, contrary to the admissible age of 18 years and more for holders of driver’s license.

Dangers of overloading autorickshaw

Autorickshaws are often overloaded in many urban areas in the country.

Within the Tamale Metropolis, these vehicles are loaded with six unauthorized passengers instead of the designated two.

In some cases, a passenger or two hang on the limbs of the vehicle, which is already loaded with six people with their luggage.

This is becoming an increasing phenomenon that endangers the lives of passengers on board and threatens road users.

On some major stretches within the Savelugu Municipality and the Tamale Metropolis, motorists practise bumper-to-bumper movements where moving vehicles get so close to one another in traffic.

Surprisingly, overloaded autorickshaw operators struggle to maintain balance on the road, risking toppling over at any moment, which could lead to injuries or loss of lives.

Overloading autorickshaws poses substantial threats to the well-being of passengers and road users, mounting the risk of accidents, given that the vehicle’s weight limit and structural integrity is compromised.

It is highly possible for an overloaded autorickshaw to tip over while maneuvering a curve, especially in the case of a weak brake inefficiency.

In the event of an accident, passengers face a higher risk of injury due to overcrowding, underscoring the need to address and deter this unsafe practice.

Regardless of the concerns on road safety, operators who interacted with the GNA said they were not ignorant of overloading being an offence, indicating it was a strategy to survive.

Razak Nuhu Osman, an autorickshaw operator, who plies the Savelugu-Tamale Road; (a highway, linking Tamale and communities through to the Upper East Regional capital Bolgatanga, and neighbouring Burkina Faso, sees different shapes of vehicles with different speed and level of carefulness) noted that he overloads the vehicle so that he could improvise for the high cost of fuel to make enough sales for the day as well as render a GH₵60 sales account to the vehicle owner.

The GNA followed up on the manufacturer stipulations and directives for the use of autorickshaws at the Tamale office of Somoco Ghana Limited, which is a distributor of motorcycles and three wheelers, and a place where autorickshaws are assembled.

Mr Godson Ahorsu, Operations Manager for Somoco Ghana Limited, Tamale, in an interview with GNA, said the manufacturer’s specification for each model of autorickshaw was four passengers including the operator.

He said the capacity was to enable maximum comfort for the operator to easily maneuver, adding that the vehicle had three wheels and overloading the front mounted pressure that created an imbalance for movement.

He noted that imbalance movements of the vehicle could hinder the operator from acting promptly in a situation to prevent a crash.

Mr Ahorsu reiterated the essence of not carrying an additional person by the operator, explaining “The steering columns come with the clutch and if you don’t have enough freedom to press the clutch, you would have to apply more pressure on it, which can lead to the clutch cable breaking.”

He stated that there was a need for people, who commercialised these vehicles, to stick to the manufacturing design, emphasising the need for regular and proper servicing.

However, Mr Muntawakil Abdulai, Northern Regional Manager of the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA), speaking to the GNA, said the four passenger specification as presented by Mr Ahorsu, was contrary to Section 128 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act which states that, “the Licensing Authority shall not register a motor cycle or tricycle to carry a fare paying passenger”.

Thus, the use of the tricycles in carrying fare paying passengers which has become common nowadays breached section 128 of the Road Traffic Regulations, 2012, (LI 2180).

Commercialising autorickshaws illegal and helpful

Autorickshaws have become a more affordable and convenient means of transport and have taken over the work of taxis in some cities across the country.

The GNA’s enquiries, however, found that autorickshaws were introduced to alleviate transport challenges, but restricted to family use.

These vehicles, though acceptable and recognised as commercial vehicles in many cities worldwide, they are not documented as such in Ghana and cannot be commercialised.

On this basis, autorickshaws in Ghana are not registered as commercial vehicles, and they do not bear the registration and number plates as commercial vehicles.

Registered commercial vehicles have yellow background plates with numbers written in black, private ones have blue background with white numbering, while motorcycles have blue background with white numbering.

Autorickshaws have the blue background with white numbering, which means they are considered as motorcycles in Ghana, and therefore cannot be registered to operate as commercial vehicles, as their operations as commercial entities are not backed by law for now in the country .

Road crash situations in Northern region
From January to September 2023, the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) recorded 89 reported road crash cases in the Northern Region, which involved 159 vehicles, 31 persons killed and 120 persons injured.

For the 159 vehicles involved, 50 were commercial vehicles, which killed eight and resulted in 44 injuries, 49 private vehicles which killed four and resulted in 14 injuries and 60 motorcycles, which killed 19 and resulted in 62 injuries.

To wit, autorickshaw accidents contributed to 60 reported road crashes, 62 injuries and 19 deaths during the period since they are recognised as motorcycles.

It is imperative to highlight that these figures are a record of cases that were witnessed and reported to the authority, which insinuates many fatal crashes may involve vehicles that were not on record including cases of lethal autorickshaw crashes.

Mr Musah Baba Labanti, Road Safety Advocate and Programme Assistant at the Northern Regional Office of the NRSA, expressed worry over the situation and described it as persistent defilement of the law where people intentionally endanger the lives of passengers and other road users.

He said while autorickshaws were being commercialised against the law, operators could simply obey traffic rules of loading the accepted number of passengers, stating that the NRSA and partners had undertaken series of operations to stop the practice, however, the operators are adamant.

“The solution lies with the Police to bite a bit and get them arrested and processed to court. An offender given many penalty units, a prison term or both will serve a deterrent to others”, he added.

Way Forward

Addressing overloading autorickshaws and other vehicles is a step to ensuring road safety. Therefore, there must be comprehensive strategies and stringent measures in place to do so.

This includes thoroughly enforcing weight limits for vehicles, particularly autorickshaws and motorcycles, through regular checks and penalties to discourage overloading.

Vital to this effort are public awareness campaigns targeting both drivers and passengers, and emphasising the importance of adhering to weight limits for road safety.

In addition, promoting better public transportation alternatives can alleviate reliance on overloaded autorickshaws, while technological solutions like weigh-in-motion systems can be subsequently adopted to improve monitoring and enforcement.

There should be the enforcement of penalties and legal consequences for overloading, coupled with fostering collaboration among transportation authorities, law enforcement, and stakeholders to ensure an effective front in steadily addressing overloading concerns. It is high time the safety of members of the public took precedence in addressing and appropriately dealing with those, who violate traffic regulations.

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