Editorial | Jamaica’s killer roads
National Road Safety Month received a huge slap in the face with Tuesday's horrific accident on the Llandovery main road, which claimed four young lives. Weeks earlier, an overloaded, defective public passenger vehicle that was being driven by an unlicensed driver crashed in the area, killing five persons.
Statistical data will confirm that multiple lives have been wasted along that Llandovery roadway with chilling frequency.
Concern about the mounting carnage on the nation's roads prompted the launch of Operation Zero Tolerance in May. Expected to last for three months, this islandwide exercise is intended to clamp down on the use of defective vehicles and to detect and prosecute other breaches of the Road Traffic Act.
Keeping road fatalities below 300 has been an elusive dream despite the combined efforts of stakeholders in the transport sector to organise awareness campaigns about road safety. Sadly, motorists continue to speed recklessly towards their destinations, or overtake improperly, refuse to wear seat belts and helmets, talk on the phone, and run red lights. Pedestrians, too, have often acted recklessly in using the roads - to their ultimate detriment.
When deaths and injuries are calculated, the long-term impact of road accidents includes lingering impairment, loss of productive time, and, in many cases, shattered dreams. The costs to taxpayers include increased insurance premiums and property damage.
Another causal factor for road crashes is drunkenness. Are the police using the breathalyser to detect drivers who are intoxicated? Particularly, with new laws governing the use of ganja, should there be increased vigilance about driver impairment?
It's not unusual to look for someone to blame in these circumstances. And in the case of Llandovery, there was a suggestion that poor road construction could be blamed. Thankfully, head of traffic, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen, has put those thoughts to bed after he toured the area with a technical team and pronounced that the road was in good order.
Yet, we cannot ignore the important role that road engineering must play in reducing risk for road users. These ought to include installing safety features that would lower the risk of dangerous overtaking manoeuvres, as well as enforcing lane discipline by clear demarcation of solid and dotted lines.
So we pretty much know the reasons why people are dying on our roads. But road-safety campaigns, though conceived in good faith, will not achieve the desired effect all by themselves. There has to be individual driver responsibility because the police cannot be everywhere.
The elephant in the room surrounds the happenings at the Island Traffic Authority, where it has always been possible to have defective vehicles passed as fit and roadworthy. How does this come about?
Then there are motorists who, having been issued with multiple traffic tickets for road violations, ignore them and continue to operate with impunity for years without ever being detected. How does that come about?
From the above, we know the answers to the road-accident dilemma, and the clear conclusion is that good governance is needed. There has to be more effective policing and greater vigilance at the Island Traffic Authority to eliminate corrupt practices.
Establishing a responsible driving culture can be a long process, but it must work hand in hand with strict enforcement.