Sat | Jul 11, 2020

Cedric Stephens | How does the transport ministry plan to improve accident data collection?

Published:Sunday | September 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The range of responses that my articles evoke continues to fascinate me. From the nonsensical, the predictable, the thoughtful, and the in-between. And some persons believe that risk and insurance are boring. Today’s column will not focus on the many deaths and destruction that were visited upon on islands of The Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian or whether global warming played a part in its rapid development into the monster that is still posing threats to the eastern seaboard of the USA as I write.

The ideas behind today’s piece were shared with me by a kind and very thoughtful reader. He wrote: “Your reference to the University of Waterloo research on speeding (in last week’s article) did not define speeding … (it) is … traffic management jargon.” He continues: “to drive 51 kilometres (per hour) anywhere between Papine and Half-Way Tree is speeding. But to drive 25 kilometres (per hour) anywhere between Whitfield Hall and Hagley Gap (in rural St Andrew) is also speeding despite not exceeding the speed limit. For the latter journey, to drive 15 kilometres per hour during or immediately after rain is also speeding.”

Many motorists, including authority figures, do not understand this nuanced definition of speeding. They are fixated on speed limits, a topic I wrote about last October. The reader provided an example from the province of British Columbia, Canada, to support his argument. “Did you know that in BC you can get a speeding ticket if you operate unsafely BELOW the posted limit? Police can issue a violation ticket for speeding, and notwithstanding the posted limit, officers can also issue a violation ticket for speed relative to conditions in the case of icy roads, crowded or narrow streets, poor visibility, etc.”

There is ignorance about proper driving techniques and behaviours. Local educators talk about the importance of teaching critical-thinking skills. The absence of these competencies is not limited to classrooms. It is evident in how some of us drive. The deficiency is not limited to taxi drivers. It is also present in boardrooms.

Some years ago, for example, I suggested to the owner of the country’s biggest motor insurer the introduction of a programme to improve policyholders’ driving skills and on-the-road behaviour. The long-term aim was to reduce the frequency of accidents and improve company profitability. The idea was shot down without explanation. Fast-forward to today. One of the biggest US insurers, with revenues of US$40 billion, and at least one local insurer, are using technology to collect data about motorists’ driving behaviour.

The ongoing development of Jamaica’s road infrastructure is imposing additional demands on the drivers of motor vehicles well beyond steering, accelerating, and applying brakes. The early days of what is now called the P.J. Patterson Highway highlighted the risks associated with and driving at speeds approaching, or in excess of, 110 kilometres per hour with tyres in poor conditions. In addition, the new, ‘groundbreaking’ Road Traffic Act and the hi-tech infrastructure that will be deployed to enforce compliance (according to Transport Minister Montague)are intended to change driving habits much in the same way that the compulsory wearing of seatbelts law did.

Many of the critics of the much-maligned Assistant Commissioner of Police Bishop Dr Gary Welsh, particularly those who believe that behaviour can only be changed when the cat o’nine tails are used, have not given him any credit for seeing the bigger picture. Making behavioural changes – as anyone who has broken a New Year’s resolution knows – is very a very difficult process. It requires a substantial commitment of time, effort, and emotion. But I digress. This piece is about speeding.

A December 4, 2014, Jamaica Information Service article, ‘Police issue 408,000 tickets for Traffic offences since January,’ confirms the accuracy and wisdom of the reader’s observations. It mentions excessive speeding. The then head of the Police Traffic Division is reported as saying that “excessive speeding has accounted for 25 per cent of road deaths since the start of the year”, without explaining what the two words meant.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration February 2009 report that the reader kindly supplied was very helpful. NHTSA defined speeding as “driving too fast for conditions” (DTFFC) and “exceeding posted speed limit” (EPSL)”. I am not a traffic engineer. However, common sense tells me that these two definitions of speeding can also be applied to local conditions.

Here area few other highlights from the report:

1. In fatal crashes, about 55 per cent of all speeding-related crashes were due to EPSL as compared to the 45 per cent that were due to DTFFC.

2. A marginal number (about 0.4 per cent) of all fatal crashes were determined to be speeding-related through citations of speeding violations issued to the driver.

3. In speeding-related crashes that resulted in one or more injuries, about 26 per cent of the crashes were due to EPSL as compared to the 74 per cent that were due to DTFFC.

4. In speeding-related property-damage-only crashes, about 18 per cent of the crashes were due to EPSL as compared to the 82 per cent that were due to DTFFC.

5. The percentage of all crashes that were speeding-related (DTFFC or EPSL) varied considerably among the states, from about six per cent to about 20 per cent of all crashes. The variance of the population density, road speed limit, weather conditions, economic status, education level, etc, among the states might have played a role in this difference.

6. Speeding-related crashes that were due to DTFFC were more likely to have occurred on roads with higher speed limits (50+ mph) as compared to other crashes.

7. Speeding-related crashes that were due to EPSL occur on either lower speed limit (less than 50 mph) roads or higher speed limit (50+ mph) roads as compared to other crashes.

Final remarks: Have the transport ministry’s technocrats and the minister included plans to improve the accident data collection infrastructure? The forms that are currently used by police officers are unsuitable.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. If you need free information or counsel email