D.Ch.E. Ugwuegbu (1977): The Stop Sign is for the Other Guy


The other day I stumbled across a study of Nigerian drivers that had been published by a member of the Psychology Department of the University of Ibadan, Denis Chimaeze E. Ugwuegbu. It was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 62, Issue 5, 574-77) in 1977 (The side I linked to links through to the journey but the article is behind a paywall).Today I finally got my hands on the hard copy.

I generally don't have much patience for psychological studies – I don't quite know how to properly read the statistical analyses that they present – but I liked the title of this one: 'The Stop Sign is for the Other Guy.' I know, I know. This makes me sound incredibly superficial. In this case, however, the headline kept its promise and I found some well put observations that will probably make it into the working paper on cowboys on Nigerian roads that I must have mentioned before.

So, let me share some of it.
'In the early history of the automobile in Nigeria, people perceived cars and lorries as a medium of destruction through which the gods could manifest their anger at will. Accidents by automobile were attributed not to failure of the machine nor to the behaviour of the driver but to bad luck or evil spirits.'

(Ugwuegbu 1977: 574)

(This had me thinking of Wole Soyinka's play The Road. - 'The other lorry overtook us – that's divine providence for you,' Samson commented after he observed how a passenger lorry crashed into a river. There are also frequent references to Ogun and even to a religious cult of flesh dissolution, if I remember correctly.)

'A young Nigeria on entering the driving profession usually made his own "supernatural powers" (e.g., charms, amulets) to assure himself of safety should the vehicle get involved in an accident. The charms were worn or displayed vividly near the driver's seat and were believed to have the power to facilitate the driver's reaction time so that the driver could escape safely from accidents. Dependency on external powers may be related to the annual increase in road accidents in Nigeria.'

(Ugwuegbu 1977: 574)

'Practical experience on Nigerian roads shows that the taxi and lorry drivers exhibit more impatience, unpredictability, and inconsistency than private care drivers. They are known to overtake others at bends, sharp curves, and shoulders, and are more frequently involved in head-on collisions than private car owners.

Bus drivers differ from taxi and lorry drivers. Bus drivers, especially those employed by organizations like the universities and government bodies, are carefully screened before employment. They possess a higher grade of driving license and tend to be more educated than taxi and lorry drivers. Taxi and lorry drivers represent a population of unsuccessful drivers. Furthermore, taxi drivers tend to be under extra pressure because they work for commissions rather than fixed salaries.'

(Ugwuegbu 1977: 577)

The article also presents data and statistical analysis. As I said above, for some reason or another numbers of this kind speak a language I don't quite understand. Never have. But, if this is your kind of thing – and, I know there are people out there who speak numbers – go and find the article! (Once again, this side provides full citation and links through to the article.)

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