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Enforce the law on motorcycles

Published:Wednesday | March 4, 2015 | 3:00 AM

This newspaper has, in recent days, with the publication of photographs highlighting the problem, been drawing attention to the widespread practice of Jamaican motorcyclists, and their passengers, riding without wearing safety helmets.

It is a habit that is illegal and dangerous. Indeed, it is because of danger that the Road Traffic Act was amended in the 1990s, requiring the use, with only partial success, of helmets. There is little doubt that the situation has improved over the last two decades, but the situation, as our campaign reveals, is far from satisfactory.

Part of the reason for the relatively low rate of compliance, we believe, is the absence of aggressive enforcement, and a sense in the society that bikes are not really motor vehicles. The absence of sustained campaigns for the use of helmets, and formal reported studies on the efficacy of safety helmets in motorcycle crashes, contribute, too, to their underuse. We suspect, too, that motorcycle crashes and injuries, when there are no deaths, are severely under-reported in Jamaica.

Indeed, it is a matter to which the authorities, for several reasons, should pay attention.

 

inherently dangerous

 

The matter of the use of safety helmets is the most readily noticeable, and with the greatest possibility, based on data from jurisdictions where such studies have been done, of saving lives. First, motorcycles are inherently dangerous. They can travel at fast speeds and provide little protection for their operators.

Indeed, America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the around 4,500 people who died in motorcycle crashes in 2010 accounted for 14 per cent of road traffic deaths, for units that accounted for fewer than one per cent of the miles travelled by motor vehicles that year.

On average, 12 per cent of the deaths occurred in states with laws demanding universal wearing of helmets, against 64 per cent with partial-use laws, rising to 79 per cent with no-helmet laws.

Further, an analysis by the United States Government Accountability Office, of various studies into injuries from motorcycle crashes, found "surviving helmeted riders suffered 46 to 85 per cent fewer incidents of severe, serious and critical head injuries than non-helmeted riders".

The obvious conclusion is that wearing helmets while riding motorcycles makes sense. The law should be enforced.

 

danger to other road users

 

But this matter of safety gear and the danger motorcyclists pose to themselves are not the only ones to which Jamaican law enforcement should pay serious attention. There is also the danger to other road users.

Many motorcyclists, it appears, drive their vehicles with impunity, while loopholes in the law demand no specific test of their competence. Moreover, enforcement of the roadworthiness regulations of these vehicles, as is required by law, is at best spotty. Safety, and the economics thereof, apart, there is another reason why they deserve attention.

Motorcycles - many of which are unlicensed - have grown in prevalence in Jamaica in recent years and with them a perception of their use in crime, especially in street robberies and as getaway vehicles with the capacity to weave through thick traffic. These, of course, are not new claims about the use of motorcycles, but they are not ones that law enforcement should readily dismiss. Strict regulation of these vehicles, as is required in law, might help.