Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Lucien Jones | Summon will to arrest traffic deaths

Published:Tuesday | June 28, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Dr Lucien Jones

In respect of sudden and violent deaths, Jamaica has two major problems: murder and traffic injuries. They both need urgent and sustained action.

The Gleaner editorial ('Jamaica's killer roads, June 25, 2016) placed a spotlight on road crashes - and for good reason! For as it declared: "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."

It continued with a very accurate summary of the root causes: "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."

So, fixing our roads, at least in the view of one of the most important institutions that shape public opinion in our country, is now competing, as a priority item, with #Brexit, #Regrexit, #ZikV, and #FinancialDeclarations.

 

WHO WARNING

 

This achievement is no small matter. For it signals that civil society is becoming increasingly aware of the devastation that traffic injuries have visited on us. Increasingly, however, the international community, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been using research-based data to warn nations that traffic injuries can result in up to a three per cent loss in GDP - a major development issue for low- and middle-income countries like Jamaica.

It is in this context that we welcome this focus on road safety by The Gleaner and encourage the nation to consider seriously two observations, inter alia, that the editorial astutely made:

1. There has to be individual driver responsibility because the police cannot be everywhere.

2. Good governance is needed.

Two key issues need to be considered in light of these observations. One is that unless we have the political will to give priority to provide funding to ensure that our roads are safe, then "keeping fatalities below 300 will remain an elusive dream".

Second, the new thinking that is gaining acceptance, and driving down fatalities in countries that have accepted it, is that we ought to create safe systems so that people don't die on our roads. We ought to create a transportation system that does not "punish users, not if, but when, they make a mistake, with death and injury".

Sweden, Holland, and Australia have adopted this approach. With significant success! One of which has come up with an ambitious target. Towards zero!

So then, we need to design and build safe roads; legislate and enforce safe speed limits; import safe cars; and produce safe road users -- who drive, walk and ride with care and discipline.

The question is, can we, as a nation, summon the political will to make the tough decisions now that our people will not continue to suffer the twin tragedies of dealing with personal grief, and retarded national development?

 

NEW CHALLENGES

 

Using the 'vaccines' recommended by the WHO, in the early days of this epidemic, establishing a lead agency (National Road Safety Council - NRSC), enacting legislation to prevent drink driving and mandating the use of safety devices, reducing speeding and setting targets, we have come a far way from 1993. Since 2012, however, when the fatality rate dropped to 260, things have not gone well. For many reasons - not the least of which has been the significant increase in the fatality rate of motorcyclists. And far too many Llandovery events, where multiple deaths have resulted from a single crash.

The challenge now for a new administration, and for Prime Minister Holness, the current chairman of the NRSC, is to summon the political will to fix, or, at the very least, create a vision to deal with what is arguably one of the most important problems that confront our people.

The PM has scheduled a full meeting of the NRSC this week, to which four of his ministers - transport, health, national security, and justice - all of whom sit on the council - have been invited. It presents an opportunity to send a signal to a nation, not only terrified by rampaging gunmen, but also equally concerned about the carnage on our roads. The Gleaner's 'intervention', is therefore, not only timely, but very welcome indeed.

- Lucien Jones is vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lucienw.jones@gmail.com.