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Orville Nembhard: Road crashes – who’s really at fault?

Published:Friday | July 17, 2015 | 7:00 AMOrville Nembhard

The Gleaner article of July 15, 2015 featuring road traffic crashes made for interesting reading. The top ten causes of crashes all pointed in some way to the road user, and most often, to the driver. While it is not my intention to take issue with the author or the National Road Safety Council, the results need further analysis.

In examining the road traffic environment, there are three things that have to be considered. They are as follows:

1. The driver

2. The vehicle

3. The environment

The environment includes not only the physical environment, but also the social and legal fabric of our society. The contribution of defective vehicles does not seem to be reflected here, nor does the state of our road surfaces or lighting seem to factor as a contributor to crashes.

What influence, for example, do the route taxis, legal and otherwise, and their indiscriminate stopping, have on the number one cause of 'following too closely behind'. This could be an example of our legal and enforcement environment failing us in allowing the proliferation of these vehicles and their driving habits. What of our social environment which makes a hero out of the bus driver who boasts of doing Papine to Half-Way Tree in four minutes?

As it regards hot-spot identification, I applaud corporate Jamaica for being involved. However, I feel this, again, requires more scrutiny. We build the roads, we set the speed limits, the crossings, etc. In other words, we created this hot spot. What is it about that spot which makes it a magnet for fatal crashes? What can be done to alter the environment so as to eliminate this? To borrow a principle from occupational health, it is far more beneficial to engineer away a hazard than to rely on the user to be careful.

Do we need traffic-calming devices, for example, rumble strips or speed bumps, in these areas? Do we need greater separation of our motorised and non-motorised traffic, i.e., pedestrians and cyclists, otherwise known as vulnerable road users? Are we analysing the conflicts that arise at these spots which result in fatal outcomes?

Cars dangerous tools

It would not be acceptable to give a worker a tool which, through its normal use, could result in his death, and tell him to be careful. But this is what we do every day in the road traffic environment. It is also a well-established principle that knowledge does not necessarily lead to behaviour change.

At the risk of inflaming passions, each of these hot-spot signs for me represents a monument to failure - failure to adequately address the problem.

We each have to take individual responsibility for our actions on the road. However, it can't be that all the ills of the road traffic environment rests on the road users.

As long as there is a road environment, we will have crashes. However, we need to move away from these generalised descriptive terms to deeper analysis and focused intervention if we are to positively impact these numbers. Perhaps in addition to some of these efforts, we need to engage the services of a road-safety engineer.

- Orville D. Nembhard is a medical doctor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and titanodn@gmail.com.