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Drivex in The Gambia

In February 2016 after five months of preparation Steve Cocks of Drivex carried out a two-week driver education and training programme in The Gambia in association with one of our training partners. The project was a career highlight and Drivex's most ambitious training project to date.

The project was for the Medical Research Council based in the U.K. and the objectives were to reduce the risk of road journeys made in The Gambia by staff based there.

Below is a diary of Steve's trip:

Friday 5th Feb

All ok with flight and met my Medical Research Council colleagues for the trip at check-in. Landed in Banjul about 5pm (same time as in U.K.) and had MRC driver to take us to hotel. Temp about 37C.

First impression of roads was amazing with all manner of basically worn-out vehicles of all descriptions with the odd newish vehicle (mostly Japanese but the odd Land Rover, BMW or Ford) The old stuff is mostly Mercedes taxis plus a lot of other mostly European stuff. Driver from airport had excellent vehicle control but virtually no hazard perception in terms of hazard development. For example, on leaving airport he was on a dual carriageway doing about 80kmh in lane 1, cyclist ahead, lane 2 empty and he made no effort to move out for the cyclist.

The road to hotel was fairly busy with all sorts of haphazard goings on with every kind of object (from pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles, donkey carts, goats, cattle, stuff breaking down etc). It was ‘educational’ shall we say!

MRC site at Basse

Arrived at hotel which was comfortable and next to the beach.

Saturday 6th Feb

MRC driver picked us up at 9.30 for a trip to the MRC site at Fajara and then on a general drive around the area looking at potential training routes. Different driver but once again same impression with the roads and driver’s hazard perception skills.

After that had afternoon free, spent time around and in the pool and on the beach.

Sunday 7th Feb

Morning free then driver picked us up at 11.30 for drive to Basse. This is a town at the Eastern end of The Gambia and the drive of some 370 kms took about 5 and a half hours with one stop at a place called Soma. Soma is a hectic place, very busy and much hotter than Banjul. We were there about 2pm. Arrived at MRC Basse site about 5.30 where it was even hotter. From a U.K. driving perspective Basse seemed absolute chaos! Total road bedlam with lots of horns, near misses and every conceivable type of old, worn out and overloaded vehicle, the most common of which were the donkey carts.

Once again, driver had good control skills but road positioning, speed limit conformity and general hazard management was well below par. On the drive to Basse we came across the following on the road:

Broken down lorries (numerous)

Bush taxis (overloaded, overcrowded, well-worn minibuses usually Mercedes Sprinter type but some Transits, all ancient)

Motorcycles

Main street in Basse town

Pushbikes

Children and adult pedestrians

Army and police checkpoints (every village)

Goats

Donkeys

Cattle

Donkey carts

Monkeys

Goat having it’s throat cut

Buses (Leyland)

Overloaded lorries and vans

Our accommodation was comfortable and quiet on the MRC site with the Gambia River adjacent.

Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th Feb

Both of these days followed the following format (timings there or thereabouts):

08.00 Breakfast

08.30 Start presentation (9 drivers)

10.15 Vehicle check demonstration.

10.45 On-road sessions (two drivers to one trainer) Session about 1.5 to 2 hours.

Once out of town the roads were generally good and free from traffic!

2.30 On-road sessions (one driver to one trainer) Session about 1.5 to 2 hours.

All drivers presented with certificates from MRC.

All of the drivers have been largely as previously described bar one who had serious coasting issues. They all responded well to the training and showed good improvement and extremely enthusiastic response. I developed the presentation almost daily to reflect the problems encountered on the local roads.

Temperature in Basse reached well over 40C and the route used was through the town and out on the open road. All vehicles used were Toyota Landcruisers but a much simpler and more basic vehicle than we see in the U.K.

Wednesday 10th Feb

Travel back to Banjul and original hotel. Departed about 9.45 with again one stop at Soma.

I advised MRC that a journey of this length (6 hours) should have at least two stops.

A very tiring journey and new hazards encountered on the road were:

Vultures

Goat (live) strapped to roofrack

Mercedes passing us on the nearside (i.e. leaving the highway)

Motorcycle coming straight at us in lane 2 of a dual-carriageway carrying planks of wood.

Thursday 11th Feb

Another training day and same format as the Basse days except I had two drivers on the second session as well. The first two I had today were excellent, the second two were good and responded well to the coaching. The nature of the roads here seem to promote good vehicle control because of the testing chaotic nature of ‘the traffic’ but MSM routine and COAST (Concentration, Observation, Anticipation, Space, Time) are non-existent.

I suggested to MRC that some form of driver feedback form should be given to the field workers and medical staff who use the drivers to give their thoughts on their driver knowing that they have been through the training process. This is being instigated together with a ‘two-stop’ policy for the Basse run.

Friday 12th Feb

Another training day, same format as before. I had two drivers for the first session and one in the afternoon, much the same regarding driver standards. The routine seems to be working well now and all went smoothly.

Saturday 13th Feb

Day at leisure and after going for a walk around the neighbourhood spent the rest of the day by the pool. In the evening went to a restaurant called ‘Gaya’ and the taxi (same one there and back) was shocking….

Mercedes 190 (I think)

A group of drivers receive their certificates

ABS and ASD warning lights on constantly

At least one cylinder not playing ball

Auto – as soon as in park idle speed shot up to 2500 rpm

Diff wailing like a banshee

Front right wheel bearing shot

Engine must have been leaking oil like the Torrey Canyon judging by the smell

Ran out of fuel….rolled into a petrol station by luck!

Driving standard of driver was poor and that’s being kind!

Sunday 14th Feb

Day at leisure, again mostly by the pool.

Monday 15th Feb

As the day wore on I felt quite nauseous. Apart from breakfast I stayed off food all day, just drinking plenty of water. Felt fine by the end of the day.

Training day went well, four candidates trained by myself. All four were shy of mirror use and three had coasting issues.

Tuesday 16th Feb

Daily vehicle checking was part of the course; so important for all vehicles but especially so in such harsh conditions

Another training day, same format as before but today I had six drivers to work with. Today however I was in the MRC’s new Landcruiser, a much more comfortable and refined vehicle all round.

Wednesday 17th Feb

Final day of training and my final four drivers.

Thursday 18th Feb

Mostly a rest day for me on The Gambia’s Independence Day. Some time spent completing our Driver Report Forms prior to several meetings arranged with various staff at MRC.

Friday 19th Feb

Return to the U.K.

In total 66 drivers completed the program and their standards generally improved dramatically. For me this was a tremendous opportunity and experience and is the highlight of my 21 years in driver training. Without exception every driver I worked with was extremely polite, enthusiastic and willing to learn; trying to gain every last drop of improved knowledge and skill that they can. This was very refreshing compared to the ‘I’ve been driving 20 years and I know it all’ attitude that is sometimes prevalent among British drivers!


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