Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Garth Rattray | Don't ease up on seat belts, helmets

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 5:00 AM

The two recent road tragedies on the Kingston peninsula may have been prevented if protective equipment and gear were utilised. In spite of our laws, many people drive around without seat belts, and most bikers ride bareheaded. Some bikers zoom by with engines loudly revving, high on adrenaline from their high-risk behaviour.

I can count the number that wear protective headgear, and I rarely see protective clothing. If falling from a stationary, standing position can cause serious brain damage, just imagine what falling on to a hard surface at speed can do.

Some riders carry their helmets along for the ride, but attach them to the seat straps or atop the gas tank. Others put it on their head, unstrapped and perched towards the back. And, pillion riders rarely wear helmets.

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps the general thinking is that bike riders are often from the poorer class and can barely afford to ride a motorbike. However, because riding around bareheaded is so dangerous, the habit of thinking of the motorbike and the helmet as two separate entities should be discouraged. In the same way that motor vehicles must have seat belts already installed, bikers should be forced to purchase two helmets or forfeit riding entirely.

Many years ago, long before wearing seat belts was the law in Jamaica, I buckled up because they saved the lives of my sister and her husband. They hit 'black ice' and slid off a highway into a partially frozen waterway. Their vehicle ended upside down and, were it not for the seat belts that they were wearing, their story would have ended tragically.

In those days, whenever I buckled up, people would ask if I did so because I intended to drive very fast. Until buckling up became the law, I found myself repeatedly explaining that I use the seat belt for safety reasons only. It has become such a habit with me that I buckle up when driving from one section of the shopping mall to another. It is second nature for me. I feel naked and vulnerable until I buckle up.

 

DON'T STOP PROSECUTING

 

All this brings to mind the phrase, 'Protect yourself at all times', used by referees of boxing matches after delivering instructions to the fighters. It is boxing's number one rule and it is also used in other combat sports. But this phrase needs to be extended for use on our roads.

Because of our chronic indiscipline and penchant for disobeying the law, the authorities must never let up on prosecuting anyone driving a motorbike without a helmet in the same way that they have never let up on ticketing people who do not wear seat belts.

I think that I've heard every conceivable excuse for not wearing a seat belt. Some claim that seat belts feel as if they are suffocating them, others claim that in the event of a fiery or watery crash, the seat belt will prevent a quick exit. Those who carry firearms insist that the seat belt will not allow them to pull their firearms in time to save their lives if they are attacked.

Some are honest enough to say that they find seat belts uncomfortable. This is a non-starter, because we all know that constant use of the seat belt brings tolerance and the wearer will adjust soon enough.

I have two pet peeves. Police personnel should be encouraged to buckle up when travelling at regular and, especially, at high speeds. They may need quick exit if slowly patrolling the streets, but certainly that doesn't apply while driving at normal speed. I've seen several police personnel injured in crashes simply because they don't buckle up on or off duty. The laws of physics always trump the law that allows police officers to drive without seat belt restraint.

And, I am still using this medium to expose a ridiculous anomaly. Persons travelling inside the protective cab of a pickup must all buckle up, but those riding in the open back do so unrestrained. This is nonsensical, dangerous, and causes citizens to question the real reasons for enforcing seat belt laws. We need to send a strong message that restraints and headgear are for safety and must be used at all times.

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