Yellow Means Go Faster: Freetown’s New Traffic Light

Sierra Leone's traffic light

Sierra Leone’s traffic light

This month Sierra Leone installed its first traffic light in 14 years. A civil war that raged through this African country between 1991 and 2002 — with its attendant looting of virtually everything including traffic lights — meant that drivers in places like the capital, Freetown, have negotiated a congested chaos and a few traffic police officers.

So Sierra Leone’s first post-war traffic light, which now stands proudly at a busy crossroads in downtown Freetown, is more than just a tool to ease congestion. The president’s spokesman, Abdulai Bayraytay, says it represents “a transformation. We are moving forward as a country; the light is part of our reconstruction effort.” Erected on President Ernest Bai Koroma’s personal instructions, it is supposed to be the first of many that will appear around the country in the years to come.

As well as demonstrating the nation’s recovery, Mr Bayraytay believes that the light will also help reduce corruption. “The traffic police are perceived as being very corrupt, and if we limit human contact in road services there will be less misconduct,” he says. (The Economist, May 14, 2016)

In many other places traffic lights are ubiquitous to the point that distracted drivers busily texting away barely notice them, but at least for the moment, the novelty of the lights is generating attention and questions among many in Freetown:

“It was like a dream when I woke up one morning and found a set of lights with three colours,” said Mabinty Turay, a business woman who sells at the Bus Halt, where one of the traffic lights have been installed, although only the amber coloured light constantly blinks to motorists.

“What kind of light is this? I asked anxiously but all of my colleague traders could not tell because for most of us it is our first time to see it. One of my friends immediately came up and suggests that it was installed there by the government in order to beautify or decorate the streets in Freetown,” explains Ms Turay.

A commuter at the Bus Halt, who was waiting to get a public transport to the west end of Freetown, was asked about the new lights and replied: “these are traffic lights, they were placed here in order to inform drivers when to go, stop, and park”.

A passenger in a taxi this reporter travelled on while en route to a media event at the Bintumani Hotel held the view that the traffic lights were re-introduced in order to get rid of traffic police officers and traffic warden corps from the streets. He later identified himself as Abdel Kombo; he is in his mid-20s.

This move by the government to install traffic lights, he noted, was to confirm the views of many Sierra Leoneans that traffic police personnel are corrupt and that they extort money from drivers for offenses that are not worth a penny!

“I am very happy to see that the government has taken swift action of re-introduce the traffic lights,” said a jubilant taxi driver, Mohamed Jah. “I believe these traffic lights can now replace traffic police officers on the streets,” he added.

Osman Bangura, a taxi driver, said drivers should be properly educated on the use of the traffic lights because most of them cannot tell the meaning of each of the colours of the lights. (From The Concord Times, May 20th 2016)

In truth, although drivers in North America are supposed to understand traffic lights, our supposed familiarity with them does not seemed to have conferred upon us some sort of enlightened approach to driving. Instead, in some locations this correspondent would say that at rush hour green means go, yellow means go faster and red means stop and block the intersection.