Tips for Driving in Ghana

 

Ghana, in West Africa, has driving conditions which can be challenging for those new to the country. In the first half of 2011 alone there were over 1400 fatalities on the country's roads, an average of 4 fatalities per day so, as in every country in the world, a lot of care and attention is needed by those intending to drive there for the first time although it is perhaps fair to say that that Ghana is easier to drive in than many African nations, although from a western European perspective, there is room for improvement.

An international driver's licence is required for foreigners to drive in Ghana. This is valid for up to one year after arrival in the country. However, it is a simple matter to obtain a Ghanaian license for foreign registered drivers: you simply present photographs, a valid driving license and pay the appropriate fee. Officially, the speed limits are 50 km/h in urban, built-up areas and 80 km/h on the highways, driving is on the right hand side of the road, drink driving is prohibited and seat belts must be worn at all times. In recent years it has also become illegal to use mobile phones while driving.

It has been alleged, perhaps unfairly, that the reality of driving in Ghana however is very different from what the rules of the road may suggest. Anecdotally, much of the responsibility for the high level of road fatalities lies with the behaviour of drivers. Some observers have claimed that bad driving practices are reinforced by the propensity of traffic police and minor officials to accept bribes, which can result in drivers who know they are very unlikely to be prosecuted for the infringement of traffic regulations. There have been complaints of local drivers not using headlights when necessary, overtaking on dangerous bends and the unpredictable behavior of 'Tro-Tro' minibuses. There is also a culture of speed, with the emphasis on getting to the destination quickly, no matter the state of the vehicle.

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It is a fair comment though to point out that road discipline in Europe is not always what it should be, and lack of familiarity with local conditions and customs can make driving more hazardous for foreigners in every country.

The risks of driving in Ghana are exacerbated by the frequently poor condition of many roads compared to those that westerners are familiar with. Some major routes are marked with potholes and many major highways are lacking in the necessary maintenance. Street lighting is very uncommon, even in cities, and the majority of roads do not have line markings.

Foreigners are also well advised to keep doors and windows locked and shut when driving in much of Ghana. Car theft and 'car jackings' are common and it is not unknown for hijackers to collide with a tourists car to force it to a stop. Certain highways in Ghana are more infamous than others for this type of activity; some are best avoided, particularly at night.

Given this, it is surprising that insurance policies are not taken up more whole-heartedly. It is now illegal to drive without insurance in Ghana but some drivers go without while most opt for third party over comprehensive insurance. Cover is available from many companies, KEK Insurance Brokers, of Aviation Road Accra and Marine and General Brokers in Asylum Down, Accra are two popular insurance companies.

Finally, it might be worth pointing out to those interested in driving in the country that there is a relatively cheap and efficient bus service in Ghana that connects most of the major towns and districts. Needless to say the drivers of these buses are familiar with the routes and so are much less affected by conditions which would appear to be major problems to newcomers.

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