Lucien Jones | Push road safety at breakneck speed
Once again, families, friends, and colleagues have been plunged into mourning following the tragic loss of six lives in the Bog Walk Gorge. And then the next day, a young doctor also lost her life in a motor car crash. The National Road Safety Council offers its heartfelt condolences.
The question that then arises is: What can be done to prevent future loss of life on our roads?
I would suggest that as a nation, we need to begin to, as a matter of urgency, look very carefully at the Safe Systems approach that has been adopted by countries with low road fatality rates. This is in pursuit of an ideal that envisions that no one ought to die on the road! Therefore, the next hurdle to cross in Jamaica's commitment to reduce the kind of tragedies that unfolded at the weekend is to do the following things:
- Build safe roads so that when, not if, people make mistakes, or even engage in extremely careless behaviour, they are not punished by injury or, worse, death. The Flat Bridge tragedy brings into very sharp focus the need for this approach. For even though we intend to continue and even upgrade our public education campaigns, we must never again build a road where there are no protective rails, which would have prevented even 'mad driving' from resulting in death. There are well-respected institutions - iRAP - that will do an assessment of a nation's roads, assign a rating, and recommend a plan of action for the required upgrade. All of which costs money! But we have to decide what is our priority. Access or safety!
- Import safe vehicles - an issue that is very live in Jamaica as we consider how to reduce the alarmingly high levels of motorcycle-related deaths. Currently, there are no standards to be enforced for those who import motorcycle parts and then reassemble them in Jamaica. In fact, no standards exist even for motor vehicle importation as well. Again, there is a well-respected institution - NCAP (new car assessment programme) - which can assist us in this respect.
- Legislate safe speeds and enforce them. Speed limits reduce the likelihood of serious injuries. This is a potentially contentious issue as the recommended safe speeds for when pedestrians and vehicles intersect is 20-30kph.
- Produce safe road users through enforcement, training, public education, and legislation. The woefully long overdue Road Traffic Bill, when adopted into law, will play an important part in safety, including allowing for only hands-free cell-phone use (a compromised position, but a starting point nonetheless); a new driver-training system; and suspension of licences by the ITA for those who exceed the prescribed number of demerit points. There needs to be a ramped-up initiative to encourage our people to take greater personal responsibility and equip them so to do in respect of their driving habits.
BREAKING THE RULES
A critical issue hampering safety on our roads is the impunity with which drivers break the rules. Many of them are repeat offenders, and they get away with it. Too many times, the end result is death or serious injury. Add to this the general indiscipline in the society and this is a recipe for disaster. To help to correct this situation, the glitches in the traffic ticketing system must be sorted out with great urgency. Driver behaviour will not improve if offenders can collect tickets like stamps - in some cases up to 900 tickets and even 1,500.
There is also the dire need to implement electronic surveillance in this country to significantly reduce red-light running, speeding, and improper lane changing. A policeman cannot be on every corner, and we must use technology if we are to see increased compliance with the rules of the road.
So although there is no 'silver bullet' that can immediately prevent any further loss of lives on our roads, there are enough projects and proposed initiatives, if successfully implemented, can make a difference. For many, those measures will be far too late. However, for other disasters waiting to happen, if we, as a nation, can find the political will to take the hard decisions, and provide the necessary investment, who knows how many lives we can save?