Sun | Aug 20, 2017

How to reduce road deaths

Published:Monday | April 25, 2016 | 4:00 AM

A few years ago, I used to enjoy driving. The feeling of controlling a mobile machine was empowering and thrilling. The freedom that came from driving through the countryside welled up inside and was invigorating. The awareness of nature trying to reclaim the highways and byways was heavenly. The sweet smell of the rural air and openness of the land around was humbling and pacifying. But all that changed when selfish, ill-mannered and impatient ignoramuses took control of the steering wheel and commandeered our roads.

Over the years, things went from, "Oh, my God! What a magnificent scenery!" to, "Oh, my God ... watch out for the madman driving that car!" And from, "Oh, my God, what a wonderful day," To, "Oh, my God! Him ah go kill we off"! Disrespect for life, disregard for the safety of everyone, disobeying every conceivable traffic law, disdain for the police, disadvantaging the drivers who follow the rules and dysfunctional common sense lead to disarray and death.

 

NO SUCCESS AS YET

 

I realise that the police and the National Road Safety Council have been doing their best to keep the road fatalities down, but the number of crashes and deaths keep mounting. I believe that they are not reaping success because they are following accustomed paths to remedy our situation regarding motor vehicle crashes. Putting new rules in place, increasing (static) surveillance, strengthening ticketing systems, increasing fines have not worked and will not work on a population like ours. Jamaicans can be crafty and very adaptive.

Speed-check points are routine and predictable. There are certain places on certain roads that the police never set themselves up to catch speedsters. If it rains, forget it ... the police retreat from open-air places. Telephone calls, text messages, flashing lights and waving arms warn of police ahead. It's not that bad when the police are doing speed checks, but when they are doing security checks, criminals get away because they are forewarned.

People going 10 or 15km/h over the posted speedlimit usually pose no danger. It's the madmen that put the pedal to the metal and overtake anyone, anywhere that kill people. The police rarely see those nuts, but I do and you do, and we can only look on in bewilderment and pray that no one is maimed or killed.

Another real systemic flaw lies in the reality that, sometimes, police on the roads appear to be going at a leisurely pace on some errand or the other and totally ignore traffic violators. I have seen motorists reverse through red lights in front of police cars and nothing happens. I've watched in amazement as bad drivers perform ridiculous and illegal manoeuvres in full view of the police and are not accosted. As long as they are not on an emergency mission, every police, especially in a marked car, should pull over the lawbreakers.

Obviously, my repeated pleas for the authorities to set up a system wherein 'civilians' can be deputised or enlisted in some way to be their eyes on the roads, and given standing in the courts when violators are prosecuted, will not materialise. I can only use all my dash cam footage for entertaining others and I keep the camera on just in case I need it for a crash that involves my vehicle (God forbid).

 

UNMARKED CARS

 

But, maybe all is not lost. I want the authorities to seriously consider using police in unmarked cars, fitted with removable flashing lights and hidden sirens, to drive up and down, back and forth in the traffic and on numerous roads/highways, especially at the hotspots. They need to catch the dangerous drivers in action overtaking badly, overtaking long lines, following too closely, ignoring traffic lights, traffic signs and road markings, forcing people off the roads, passing around corners and doing the things that cause deaths on our roads.

That way, bad/dangerous drivers will never know if the car in front of them, behind them, beside them or approaching them is a traffic cop. Soon, discipline on our roads will be a reality and, once it starts there, who knows, it may spread to other aspects of our lives.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.