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Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies | Volume:3 Issue:3 | May 30, 2022
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DOI : 10.47310/Hjhcs.2022.v03i03.002       Download PDF       HTML       XML

Traffic Safety and the Driver in Nigeria - A Qualitative Study

ATUBI, Augustus Orowhigo (Ph.D.)

Professor of Transportation Geography Department of Geography and Regional Planning Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria

*Corresponding Author

ATUBI, Augustus Orowhigo (Ph.D.)

Article History

Received: 10.05.2022

Accepted: 20.05.2022

Published: 30.05.2022

Abstract: Road traffic fatalities and injuries have emerged as a challenge in the country. Nigeria has been addressing the problem over time. The dearth of an effective road safety policy and strategy for the country as well as dysentery amongst relevant agencies have compounded the road crash pandemic in Nigeria over the years. RICs not only affect the productive population of the country, it significantly shrinks the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 3% per annum and impedes growth and development generally. Therefore, policies and strategies based on the safe systems approach should be introduced to mainstream and integrate various elements of road safety efforts into actualizing a safe motoring environment in Nigeria. The goal of the safe systems approach is to ensure that even when crashes occur, they do not result in serious injury or death.

Keywords: Safety; driver; Nigeria; qualitative; road; crash and fatalities.


The imperatives of a global action on road safety became more obvious to the entire world with the declaration in May 2011 of the Decade of Action on Road Safety. The enormity of the situation according to the United Nations, reveals “increasing trend” of daily occurrence of about 1.3 million deaths due to road traffic collision and more than 3000 deaths each day, with about 1,500 of those not travelling in cars. Also, 20-50 million people sustain non fatal injuries from a collision leading to disability worldwide. Ironically, 90% of road traffic deaths which have become a major public health and development issue, occur in low – and middle – income countries, which have less than half the world’s registered vehicle fleet (WHO, 2010; 2013; 2015; NBS 2019; Atubi 2022a and 2020b).

The road offers the most accessible means of transportation for majority of Nigeria’s 170 million people. The country has a total of 204,000 kilometers of road networks with about 8 million registered vehicles on the roads amounting to about 34 vehicles per kilometre making the country one of the top 40 in the world. Nigeria has approximately 30,000 traffic safety personnel at both Federal and State levels, which amount to 7 km of road to 1 road traffic safety personnel. Because it is the most readily used mode, a road transportation is the noted cause of most deaths, with over 6,000 deaths and 39,000 injuries recorded on Nigerian roads each year (FRSC, 2021; Modobi, 2021; Atubi 2021a and 2021b).

Although Nigeria’s road traffic fatality rate has reduced dramatically in recent years, it is still high at a reported 6,450. The WHO estimates this number to be much higher, approximately 35,641. Road traffic crashes kill more people annually than HIV and malaria combined. Although a comprehensive set of road safety laws and legislations are in effect across the country, they are not applicable to all road users – for example rear seat car occupants are not required to wear seat-belts. In addition, enforcement of road safety practices, such as use of child restraints and complying with drink – driving laws, is extremely poor (WHO, 2015; Global Road Safety Partnership, 2022).

Besides, driving on Nigeria’s road network can be risky and arduous as large swathes have broken down, ridden with potholes due to neglect. Indeed, apart from many of the high ways that are littered with craters, driving at right is comparable to walking through a dark alley because of lack of street lights. Besides, the unpassable state of the roads has literally made them a den for robbers and kidnappers who waylay innocent passengers at any time of the day to carry out there nefarious activities (Thisday, 2021).

The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC, 2022), said persons numbering 106,256 were involved in road traffic crashes in the country from January 2019 to December 2021. The data released by FRSC, which documented road crashes between January 2019 and October 2021, explained that of the number 14,773 died from 31,116 road accidents recorded throughout the period. The data also explained that 91,483 persons sustained varying degrees of injury in the crashes recorded. According to the data, 2021 recorded the highest crashes of road traffic crashes, with 10,637 accidents involving 35,791 people. A total of 5,101 people were killed, while 30,690 people were rescued with different degrees of injuries.

Statistics indicated that over 90% of traffic accident situation in Nigeria can be attributed to drivers errors and poor management of roads which is why Nigeria is ranked second in road accident fatalities among 193 countries. This has hampered the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) article 4 and 5.

The absence of proper road safety and poor management of roads remain the basis of road accident which regularly occur at some flash points, such as where there are sharp bends, potholes and at bad sections of the highways. At such points, over speeding drivers usually find it difficult to control their vehicles, which then results to fatal traffic accidents especially at night (Atubi, 2009). Cases of fatal traffic accidents are reported almost daily on major highways in Nigeria. Various categories of vehicular traffic are also involved in these fatal road accidents due to poor road management etc (Odero et al., 2003; Onokala, 1995; and Omojola, 2004).

Nigeria’s Road Safety Country Profile

This road safety country data presents information on all pillars of road safety (management, roads, speed, vehicles, road users, and post-crash care), along with information on the current status for each country and region – with extensive information on key risk factors, issues and opportunities. 45 percent of road crashes fatalities and injuries are in the economically productive age groups (15-64 years). Ratio of male to female fatalities with the 15-49 year age group being most vulnerable to fatalities in 2:1. 631 life years are affected due to disability from road crash injuries per 100,000 people (WHO, 2018) (See Tables 1 and 2 and Fig. 1)

Table 1: Road Crash Fatalities and Injuries Snapshot for Nigeria

Country Population, 2016


Country Reported Fatalities, 2016


WHO Estimated Fatalities, 2016


GBD, Estimated Fatalities, 2016


WHO Estimated Fatalities per 100,000, 2016


Estimated serious injuries, 2016


Cost of fatalities and serious injuries, 2016

$28,798 million

Cost as % of country GDP, 2016


Source: Global Road Safety Fatality: A World Bank Group (2021)

Table 2: Positioning of Country in Region (Compared to countries with the lowest traffic fatalities in the Region and Globally)

2016 WHO Estimated Road Fatalities

Nigeria 39,802

Best performing countries in region

Mauritius 173

Nigeria 39,802

Best performing countries globally

- Switzerland 223

- Norway 143

- Singapore 153

- Sweden 278

Source: (GRSF: A World Bank Group, 2021)

Image is available at PDF file

Fig. 1: Fatalities by User Comparison Chart

Source: (World Bank, 2021)

To produce positive road safety outcomes, strong management in all aspects of road safety is key. Nigeria has a lead agency present, Federal Road Safety Corps, which is funded in the nations budget, and also has a road safety strategy which is also fully funded. The functions of the agency include coordination, legislation and monitoring and evaluation of road safety strategies. The country has both a fatal and non-fatal road safety target, to reduce fatalities by 25% with a timeline of 2014 – 2018 which has expired (WHO, 2018)

A better understanding of the situation in Nigeria when compared with other HICs and LMICs in terms of fatality rate, level of motorization etc is in Table 1. With a mush smaller number of registered vehicles in 2016, Nigeria reported the highest fatality per 10,000 vehicles compared with China, the UK, Brazil, USA, Iran and Turkey which had higher number of registered vehicles (Table 1)

Table 1: Comparison of Fatality and motorization level for selected developed and developing countries (WHO, 2015 and 2018)









GNI per

Capita in




Number of



Deaths Per





Deaths per









































































































































































































Source: (WHO, 2015 & 2018; Adapted from Uzondu, 2019.

In view of the overwhelming challenges generally affecting transportation in Nigeria, road safety research has only recently started gaining the desired attention from the government. The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) is committed to the reduction of road traffic crashes (RTC), complimented by the delivery of a safe road transport system for all classes of road users. However, despite the laudable efforts of the FGN, road traffic crashes (RTC) and fatalities are still relatively high, which is a pointer to the fact that the country is yet to get it right (Sumaila, 2013; Siyan et al., 2019; Atubi, 2022a).

Theoretical Framework

The following theories have been identified as relevant to the study.

Theory of Habitual Behaviour

This theory argues that it people conduct themselves frequently without previous specific deliberation, their activity is normal. Therefore, when individuals first behave in a particular manner, they typically determine what to do and how to achieve those outcomes and prevent certain consequences. However, when such acts are replicated in the same way, clear rational decision – making reduces and behaviour is related to the setting (Verplanken & Wood, 2006). Almost all behaviour (95% of behaviour) is a form of habitual behaviour (Wagenaar & Beck, 1992). When road users can observe from the environment what behaviour are expected from them (such as speed) and what other road users’ behaviour can be expected (such as overtaking, merging), traffic is more predictable and consequently more safe (Aarts & Van Schagen, 2006) (See Fig. 2).

Figure Image is available at PDF file

Fig. 2: A Schematic Illustration of Habitual Behaviour

Source: Culled from Verplanken & Wood (2006)

This theory applies to the present study as it explains the reasons behind the behaviour of drivers in a particular manner in Nigeria. Most of the behaviour of drivers in Nigeria is without explicit deliberation beforehand. This behaviour has become habitual as their repeated actions within the same context have decreased their explicit conscious decision making and the actions have come to be cured by the environment.

Systems Theory

Systems theory is a widely used interdisciplinary theory which originated from the general systems theory, developed by an Austrian Biologist Karlung Von Bertalanffy in 1950. Relating this theory to the study, the three components making the road traffic system are the road (environment), the vehicle (mechanical) and the road users (human) and the three factors are operationally related in road safety or causation of road traffic crashes (RTCs). Atubi (2006) posited that, defect in any of the three main components could lead to the malfunctioning of others and consequently lead to system failure which in turn could result in road traffic crashes.

Road traffic crashes result from actual failure of the road users, the vehicle or the fixed facilities to discharge properly their respective functions in the traffic system. The three components operate independently and interactively to cause crashes, hence the strategies to reduce road traffic crashes are woven around ensuring that there is no breakdown in the interactions among the components. Hughes et al., (2016), observed that the components of the road safety system comprise the constituents parts which alone, or in combination, cause road crashes.

Safety on Nigeria Roads

The Nigerian populace desires a better deal in terms of ensuring safety of lives and property in the highway transportation system (HTS). It is a truism that if we continue to do or recycle the same programmes and measures without the desired effect, we are not making progress.

The fact is that Nigeria’s rating in the world as regards to the number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from road crashes is still not enviable. Given the contemporary challenges of accident record collection and analysis in Nigeria, an average of 44 people are killed daily in road accident across Nigeria (Oyedokun, 2015; FRSC, 2018).

The current crash data collection and analysis in Nigeria, falls woefully below international accepted modus. Our crash data are not location specific and lack some other required ingredients. An example is lumping all crash data collected on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway on Lagos state, rating states using accident/crash data without reference to vehicle population. This is abnormal and does not give opportunity for detecting black spots and putting in place corrective measures (Oyedokun, 2015; Atubi and Onokala, 2009).

For Nigeria to get out of this unenviable position, road traffic management of which road safety is a subset, must be approached differently. For the purpose of clarity, Nigeria deserves to have a road safety vision where it will become unacceptable for people to die or get seriously injured due to road traffic crashes/accidents.

In achieving this and reducing the expected road traffic causalities, all system designers, engineers, town planners, law enforcement agencies, medical practitioners, fleet operators and others will have to key into this vision. This was achieved in the Republic of Sweden and she is still the best with enviable accident records all over the world. The lead agency with the responsibility of ensuring proper traffic management and safety on our roads, need to be more empowered and refocused to break these new grounds in collaborating with states and other stakeholders. The task of ensuring safer roads does not start and end on the patrols and enforcement on the highways. This involves a holistic approach through engineering, education, enforcement, emergency management, encouragement, engagement and evaluation on a continues basis (Atubi 2014, 2018, 2021a and 2022a).

While in Nigeria, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Roads in many areas of Nigeria are generally in poor condition causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. These are few working traffic – lights or stop signs, and few traffic control officers to manage the flow of traffic during power outages. Additionally, some traffic control officers may occasionally seek bribes when citing drivers for traffic violations. The rainy season, generally from May to October, is especially dangerous because of flooded roads and water – concealed potholes (Atubi, 2013b; Country Report, 2022).

Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles, and the absence of any official vehicle inspection for road worthiness all present additional hazards. Motorists seldom yields the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Accidents on inter – city highways with high casualties are common.

Road safety in Nigeria is both a global health issue and a matter calling for focused national concern. Road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in adolescents in Nigeria. More broadly, there has been an upsurge in the proportion of traffic fatalities witnessed in a number of developing countries while developed nations are witnessing downwards trends. Nigeria has the second largest road network in Africa, and our latest figures show that Nigeria is among the top 50 countries with the highest road traffic deaths. The overwhelming majority of road traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable and despite some improvements, they remain a major public health and development problem that has broad social and economic consequences which, if unaddressed, may affect progress towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGS) (FRSC, 2020).

As we approach the end of this decade of action for road safety and start on the relevant road safety target dates set out in the 2030 agenda, Nigeria must deepen national engagement with the new 2021 – 2030 time frame for a reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries. To push forward in the second decade of action for road safety, with a goal of reducing road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50% from 2021 to 2030, Nigeria must support the call upon member states and stakeholders to continue action through 2030 on all the road safety – related targets of the SDGs, including target 3.6 in line with pledge of the 2019 high-level political forum on sustainable development convened under the general assembly. We must especially take into account the remaining decade of action to deliver the SDGs by 2030 in their entirety.

Nigeria Highway Code/Road Safety Management and Strategies

Human Factor

This constitutes about 90% of road traffic crashes. Out of this percentage, drivers action or reaction makes up 80%. Human factor can further be classified under the following:


  • Over confidence: Drivers often feel that they are masters of the vehicle and road. However, we all know that tyres, brakes and the engine control the motion of the vehicle. Drivers merely operate these controls. Failure to ensure good working condition, as well as observing safe driving measures while on the road will result in road traffic crashes.

  • Speeding: Drivers believe that the faster they drive, the more they impress themselves and others. They however forget that anything can happen to the vehicle, such as tyre burst, break failure, pedestrian running across the road. More disasters and casualties are recorded when vehicles travel at higher speed than what obtains at low speed. At 100km/hr, a vehicle moves at 28 meters per second. Imagine where driver would be if this vehicle veers off the road for 1second, bearing in mind that the road is usually 12 meters wide. Drivers forget that they cannot control the road, weather conditions and the environment. On-coming vehicles or vehicles stopping or trying to avoid potholes. Furthermore, some of the roads have narrow bridges hidden around the corner.

  • Lack of concentration: Drivers often engage in things that distract their attention while driving. Such things include discussions with passengers, answering phone calls, eating, gesticulating, changing radio station or cassette. Lack of concentration is very dangerous as it take only a moment for crashes to occur. The vehicle in front may stop abruptly or a child may run into the road suddenly; hence anything can happen. Be alert always anticipate danger.

  • Tiredness: Some drivers drive long distances without even stretching their legs and improving their blood circulation to the brain. This makes the drivers feel tired and sleepy. It is a frightening experience to be driven by a driver who sleeps while driving. Sudden awakening of the driver may result in a crash.

  • Driving under the Influence of alcohol: Alcohol can cause over confidence, poor judgement, lack of coordination and recklessness. In many countries, it is a major cause of road traffic crashes. This is the reason why special tests are conducted to detect those who have been drinking prior to driving (FRSC, 2018)

  • Poor Vehicle Care: Drivers often do not check their vehicles to ensure that they are in good condition for the road before setting out on a journey. Tyres, tyre pressure, brake fluids, trafficator and brake lights are often neglected. These lead to road traffic crashes.

  • Indiscriminate parking: Parking a vehicle in the middle of the road just to change a tyre or because of engine trouble is among the cause of road traffic crashes especially at night or around a sharp bend or close to the crest of a hill where the vehicle cannot be seen far off by other road users.

  • Dangerous overtaking: This is responsible for about 45% of all crashes. Careless overtaking and poor judgement combine to cause road traffic crashes.

Mechanical Factor

Irregular and poor maintenance of vehicle can lead to crashes which may manifest while the vehicle is in motion. This constitutes about 10% of road crashes. Such irregular maintenance may lead to stoppage of the vehicle or development of other faults that affect the control of the vehicle, especially when the vehicle is on high speed. These could lead to crashes (FRSC, 2007; Atubi, 2021a and 2021b).

Factors contributing to this include the following:

  • Malfunction of engine

  • Poor steering mechanism

  • Tyre burst

  • Brake failure

  • Failed wipers during rainy season

  • Spilled oil leading to crashes

  • Exhaust fumes or smokes leading to temporary road blindness

  • Faulty security gadgets

  • Defective lighting system

  • Defective horn

  • Electrical fault

  • Lack of seat belt

Environmental Factor

It is believed that bad road causes crashes than good road. However, it has been observed that with the construction of new roads, crashes are known to be on the increase (Atubi, 2006 and 2013).

Other elements constituting environmental factor include:

  • Improperly placed or absence of road signs

  • Potholes on our roads

  • Bad roads (narrow, rough, dusty and winding roads)

  • Heavy rain

  • Harmattan haze

  • Absence of road markings

  • Collapsed bridges

  • Slippery surface (oil spill on the road)

  • Fallen trees on the road

In Nigeria, the Federal Road Safety Commission is mostly responsible for developing these measures. In response to the UN decade of action for road safety, FRSC launched “safe road in Nigeria” with the aim of reducing road crash deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030. It is based more on changing driving behaviour than advocating for good road infrastructure. The FRSC has stepped up the campaign in Nigeria to ensure that these objectives are met by strengthening legislation and enforcement in the following areas:

i. Drink Driving

This is universally believed to be unacceptable and a serous threat to traffic safety. The maximum authorised blood alcohol content (BAC) in Nigeria is 0.5g/i. FRSC (2015) shows that driving under the influence of alcohol accounted for an estimated 1% of the total cause of vehicle crashes in the country in 2012. Recently there have been efforts to amend the maximum BAC to 0.2g/I for novice drivers (less than one year driving experience) and 0.01 g/l for commercial drivers. The dangers inherent in driving under the influence of alcohol include impaired vision, poor sense of judgement, indulging in excessive speed etc. The FRSC has been organising and running publicity campaigns against drink – driving with private sector support, but enforcement of the law is still very weak and need to be strengthened.

ii. Speeding

Speed violation and inappropriate speed have been identified as a major contributor to road traffic crash in Nigeria. National natural speed limits on Nigerian roads are as follows: Urban roads: 50km/h, Rural roads: 80 km/h and expressways: 100 km/h. Ironically, only very few Nigerian drivers are aware of the different speed limits because most of them do not have the required training and tests before obtaining a driver’s licence and will not on their own go through the highway code. In addition to these, most roads have no speed limit signs at all. Consequently, in 2016 the compulsory installation and use of speed limiting devices were introduced to commercial vehicles in the first instance, although enforcement and compliance began in 2017. There is a plan to extend this to private vehicles pending success with the commercial drivers. An increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash. For example, every 1% increase in mean speed produces a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk. The death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly (4.5 times from 50km/h to 65km/h). In car-to-car side impacts the fatality risk for car occupants is 85% at 65km/h.

iii. Seatbelt Use

Seat belts are highly effective in protecting vehicle occupants and significantly reduce their risk of being fatally or seriously injured in the event of a crash (Cummings et al., 1995; Evans 1996; Atubi, 2013). The seatbelt policy was made compulsory in Nigeria in 2003, which makes it an office for front seat occupants of vehicles not to war seat belts (Atubi, 2006 and 2013) while the enforcement for rear seat occupants started in 2015. The law is exclusively enforced by the FRSC.

iv. Education and Training

Driver education (and training) is a common approach to improving road safety as the aim is to change the risky behaviour of the driver. The general premise of driver training is that lack of knowledge about safe driving and/or inappropriate attitudes are responsible for unsafe behaviours which often lead to road crashes. Therefore, the primary goal of driver training should be to increase knowledge and ensure that road users drive safely. There is substantial evidence that driving skills improve during training and several studies have suggested that higher order skills such as risk – assessment, hazard perception, situational awareness and the development of a responsible attitude contribute more to reducing crash risk than advanced driving skills (Hatakka et al., 2003; Bates et al., 2014; Atubi, 2014). Driver training and education should occur within an evidence – based holistic and life long driver licensing system, such as graduated driver licensing, with a developmental curriculum providing support and legitimacy for the things that do reduce risk.

v. Enforcement

Enforcement is based on the principle that people try to avoid penalties. People have the impression that there is a high chance that they will be penalised when violating a rule. The subjective chance of apprehension is primarily affected by the actual level of enforcement which is affected by how much people see or hear about enforcement. Therefore, the chance of apprehension can be increased by applying enforcement, publicising specific enforcement activities and by feedback on the results of enforcement activities (Atubi and Gbadamosi, 2015; Atubi, 2021b).

Improvements of traffic law enforcement have been shown to lead to rapid reductions in deaths and injuries when best practice is applied. Thus it should be part of an integrated road safety policy. One of the recommendations highlighted in the WHO (2018) was about enforcement.


Providing basic conditions and services to address road safety is primarily a responsibility of governments. This is especially in view of the decisive role that legislative bodies can play in the adoption of comprehensive and effective road safety polices and laws and their implantation. However, this is a shared responsibility to move towards a world free from road traffic fatalities and serious injuries and that addressing road safety demands much stakeholder collaboration among the public and private sectors, academia, professional organisations, non-governmental organizations and the media.


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