Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Garth Rattray | Everyday highway miracles

Published:Monday | February 27, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Jamaica can be frustrating because people in authority give scant regard to suggestions from citizens that could prove extremely beneficial. For my small part, I keep hoping that my contributions may make a difference.

One of my greatest frustrations has to do with our roads. To be very honest, it's a miracle that we do not have many more road fatalities. I think the reason for the less-than-expected carnage is that drivers are learning to adjust to the lunatics with whom they must share the roads. A few weekends ago I had to go to Hopewell in Hanover, west of Montego Bay. It was one of my most harrowing experiences ever and I found myself saying, "Oh my God!" countless times.

Things were made much worse because we were travelling after dark. There are no lights on the sides of the roads, most drivers kept their headlights on the high beams, a lot of the headlamps are not properly focused, and many now use those bright blue or bright white bulbs that diffuse blinding glares to all oncoming traffic. There was a time when I used to focus on the road markings and use them to guide me when blinded by approaching lights but, over the years, those life-saving lines are now worn, dull or sometimes absent ... they require urgent repainting.

I don't consider the North Coast Highway to be a real highway. As far as I am concerned, it is almost entirely a single lane roadway in both directions with no sturdy physical barrier or wide expanse separating opposing traffic. It has numerous slow zones through busy towns where pedestrians, canines, and pedal cyclists cross the road without any due care. And, the 'highway' is inadequately patrolled because of fiscal constraints.

 

DANGEROUS OVERTAKING

 

The main danger is widespread improper overtaking. One perfect idiot in a Mitsubishi pickup decided to overtake me although it was obvious that there was a pair of bright lights approaching from the opposite direction. Ever vigilant for these fools, I slowed down to give him room to pass but, nonetheless, the imbecile cut in suddenly before he cleared my vehicle, causing me to swerve to the left to prevent certain catastrophe. Luckily, there was a soft shoulder unto which I could retreat.

Other stupid clowns zoomed by, totally ignoring the road markings (ghost islands, no-overtaking zones, stop lines, turning lanes, unbroken white lines, single-side overtaking lines), corners and brows of the hills. Some hitched themselves perilously close to the rear end of other speeding vehicles. The amount of potentially deadly situations that I witnessed was astounding. All these dangerous antics go unnoticed by the constabulary because they are usually stationary, waiting for the offenders to come to them. The mobile patrols are much too few and far between (I saw none that night). If I were able to prosecute traffic offenders, the revenue would significantly add to the government coffers.

Once again, I'm using this medium to petition the relevant authorities to make a serious effort to have marked and unmarked police patrols driving among road users. The marked police patrols will be a deterrent to dangerous drivers and to apprehend lawbreakers when necessary. The unmarked cars will be inconspicuous and bad drivers will soon realise that the car in front, beside, behind, or near to them, could actually be a police vehicle patrolling the streets to nab dangerous drivers. They can turn on their sirens and attach the little flashing blue light to pull over drivers and ticket them. Lives are constantly in jeopardy, so financing should be made a priority by sourcing government allocations and conserving in other areas.

I have repeatedly suggested these measures and I keep hoping that laws will also be enacted to recruit ancillary personnel as traffic deputies to supplement the police and free up some to tackle major crimes. No amount of amendments to current traffic laws will bring significant reduction in road injuries and deaths unless and until marked and unmarked patrols are driving in and among the traffic. Additionally, with the positive psychological benefit derived from establishing sustained, zero-tolerance discipline, law and order on our streets will markedly reduce our spiralling, overall crime rate.

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