A few years back I posted an article on this topic which took a light-hearted snapshot of the dangers and pitfalls (sorry) of walking around the streets of Apia (https://www.bluwavetv.com/post/the-life-of-a-pedestrian-in-apia) THE LIFE OF PEDESTRIAN IN APIA-Part 1.
In spite of the tone of that article, there was a message there. Basically, pedestrians have a pretty rough time. The car is king. The car can turn left on a red light. The car can park wherever, even on footpaths (where they exist). There are significantly more cars and considerably more drivers on Samoa’s roads than there was say a decade ago. If you are a slow walker, have a disability or are pushing a baby pram you are in trouble.
More recent events have made me rethink this issue and realise there is a deeper, and much darker side to this article.
In reality, while we shrug our shoulders and brush it off as the Samoan way, the life of a pedestrian is not just dangerous but has taken a more tragic turn. Over the past few years there has been an alarming number of innocent pedestrians killed by cars.
In 2019 an accident involving 2 pick up trucks at Leulumoega claimed a life yet while charges have been laid to date no one has been made accountable. In 2021 a teenage school boy waiting with his siblings on the Cross Island Road was run over and killed by a heavy duty truck with mechanical issues, carrying an excavator and driven by an unlicensed driver. Also in 2021 a university student also waiting beside the road at Vaitele was struck by a car which fled the scene and the innocent victim was left dying beside the road. In spite of many unfounded allegations and rumors, in accordance with the Police there were no witnesses, no one has come forward and no car was identified as being repaired. Just last Thursday 21 September 2023, an innocent 6 year old girl was killed by a speeding car as she tried to cross the road after school at Mulivai Safata. Police are still searching for the driver.
These last two incidents are particularly disturbing as the victims were innocent, left to die from their injuries and the driver fled the scene. In a God fearing Christian country, this is a tragedy on a number of levels.
We all have our tale of near misses when crossing the street, even at signalized intersections. Vehicles will run the red light and turn against a red arrow. Perhaps more relevantly, on most Samoan roads there is no identifiable zone where pedestrians are safe. The road pavement blends into a narrow strip of bare dirt or grass which acts as a drainage ditch, often of variable depth which also happens to be the footpath for people who walk. This is simply not good enough.
The loss of one innocent pedestrian’s life as a result of a vehicle accident is one too many. But we are witnessing this in greater frequency and without resolution.
So what is the answer? How can we prevent this from occurring again?
Firstly, drivers – need to be more vigilant while operating a vehicle, whether it is a car, bus, truck, motor cycle or whatever. You need to be fully focused on your surroundings not just the vehicle in front and certainly not on your phone. You need to be sober and drug free. You too must respect that the road carriageway is “shared” by others including pedestrians who have equal right to walk beside the pavement. Drive to the conditions of the road and be extra cautious in villages and around schools.
For pedestrians – be aware of where you are walking, walk on the side of the road facing oncoming vehicles and do not use you phone while you are crossing a road. The Police and schools should start a mass pedestrian awareness campaign to highlight the rights and responsibilities for drivers and pedestrian alike.
As the infrastructure providers the Government has an obligation to prioritise the safety of pedestrian and not to simply cater for vehicles. Properly designed and constructed footpaths, kerb and guttered for drainage purposes need to be constructed with even surfaces and accessibility for people with disabilities or pushing a baby pram. Given that most or our road projects are funded through global banks or donor partners, our Government needs to ensure that pedestrians are included in the equation.
For the licensing and regulatory authorities (LTA, Samoa Police, Courts) – require stricter testing of drivers before issuing a license to operate any category of vehicle; increase the penalties for driving related offences and stricter registration of vehicles, especially larger and heavy vehicles in terms of safety and road worthiness. There are many more vehicles on our road which are capable of greater speed. However, our roads are not built for speed and overall drivers are not competent to handle such vehicles. Consideration should also be given to an outright ban on turning left against a red light. This is the law in other countries. It makes drivers stop and think about others and allows pedestrians to cross with safety. Speed restriction signs need to be erected and enforced nation wide.
For the drivers and passengers in the cars which have caused these accidents – you have to live with yourself and I simply do not understand how you can do this. You have caused or witnessed the death of an innocent victim yet, you not only left them to die, but have remained silent. Guilty too are those who are aware of these events and refuse to come forward.
We all have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to be road conscious. Whether you are a driver, passenger or pedestrian today, be aware.
Tatou galulue fa'atasi mo se Samoa saogalemu!