October 20, 2018

Trotro: An Uncomfortable health hazard

Interior view of a Trotro. Credit S.Tetteh et al., 2017

For anyone who has taken a long road journey by trotro or otherwise, it is common place to find people pray for safety before departure and thanking God upon safe arrival. As a child growing up, my parents would ensure that we recited the first line of Psalm 23 every time we got into the family car; “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” was how our car journeys begun. This may all sound like much but as I have grown up and started driving on Ghanaian roads, I can confidently say that my actions or in-actions on the road are a minor contribution to how I make it home safely every day.

Consider the bad roads with potholes turn manholes, the lack of street lights at night and the crazy drivers. There are the nonchalant pedestrians, the stray animals crossing the road, the mentally challenged sleeping on the edge of highways and the vehicles with sirens who have no business facing oncoming traffic. Now if you include the poorly maintained vehicles, and the drivers who genuinely do not know any better, then you will appreciate how accidents are just waiting to happen on our roads.

The danger of accidents on our roads is clear and evident however there is another danger that many ignore; and that is the seats in our trotros. Trotro vehicles which are the main means of transport around the country are mostly load carrying vehicles which have been converted into passenger vehicles by local artisans who fabricate and affix seats. Trotros are notoriously known for being uncomfortable and in 2017 a team of researchers at the School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Ghana undertook a research project to weigh in on this conversation. As far as research goes, I am impressed at the relevance of this project as it gives facts which can be referenced when discussing a problem we all know exists.  

Armed with good scientific rigour the research team led by Dr. Samuel Kwofie wanted to explore “the ergonomic evaluation of the locally fabricated passenger seats with anthropometric measures of passengers and also compare the seat dimensions to required standards”. Basically they wanted to know if passenger seats in trotros are designed to be safe and comfortable for the average Ghanaian.

The researchers collected information from 307 passengers such as height, weight and the breadth of shoulders and hips. Then they took seat measurements from 90 trotros across 15 stations in Accra. The measurements they took included the height, depth and breadth of the seats as well as the backrest height and distance between one row of seats and the next.

For anyone who uses trotros the results will be no surprise. The dimensions of the seats did not match the passenger measurements taken. Out of the 90 trotros, only 4 had the standard seat length and only 10 had the regulatory space between each row of seats (BR-BR) as per the Road Traffic Regulations.

Recording sheet used to collect information from both the passengers and the trotro seats. Credit S.Tetteh et al., 2017

What this means is that standard vehicle seat dimensions are not being adhered to by the local artisans who fabricate these seats. The obvious implication of this is discomfort during travel but the hidden implication pertains to the restriction of blood circulation particularly to the feet and hands. Such restricted blood flow can cause muscle cramps, numbness and damaged veins. There is also the long term damage to the spine and back as a result of sitting uncomfortably for so long on a regular basis.

Since the study was taken only in Accra, there is a lot to be known about what happens in other parts of the country. While we wait for that, I believe the evidence at hand is enough to trigger a review of current policies and strategies around the design of locally fabricated seats. While we attempt to enforce that all trotro seats should have seatbelts it is prudent to also ensure that the seats meet the required standards in the first place.

Perhaps it is time to call for a nationwide campaign on education and enforcement of the standard seat dimensions. In the meantime, the next time you get on board a trotro, do not hesitate to choose your seat carefully for maximum comfort. For me, it’s a window seat. I need the ‘arm rest’.

 

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