Editorial | Jamaica’s crash crisis
A weekend of road tragedies has produced the usual outrage from road-safety stakeholders. As is customary, expressions of concern heighten among the general population when there is a spike in fatalities. Then it dies down and it is business as usual. Every traffic death is one too many, and last week there were seven.
Despite the best efforts of road-safety advocates, including education and enforcement, we have been unable to meet the target of fewer than 300 deaths in a year. Police statistics point to 386 road deaths in 2018, 322 in 2017 and 379 in 2016. This continues a deadly trend which began in 1987, but for 1999, when there were 295 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) 2018 Status Report on Road Safety revealed that traffic-related death was the eighth leading cause of death in the world. It also estimated that people in low-income countries like Jamaica faced risk of road death that was three times higher than individuals in high-income counties.
Pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists are the groups most at risk of dying on our roads.
We know why people are dying on our roads. They are speeding. They are overtaking recklessly. Their vehicles are not properly maintained. They encounter poor road conditions. They are not wearing seat belts or child restraints. They are drunk or under the influence of drugs. They are using cell phones or are otherwise distracted while driving. In summary, people have accidents because they disobey the rules of the road.
How many more need to die before Jamaicans recognise that we are facing a public-health emergency? For, apart from those who have been killed, many more have been maimed or permanently disabled, creating even greater demands on an already stressed public-health system.
We are losing young adult men who are prone to engage in aggressive, potentially fatal behaviour on our roads. Sadly, many of them are breadwinners and their deaths have created dire hardships for their loved ones. It only takes one encounter with a grieving family to grasp the impact of their loss.
FALLEN ON DEAF EARS
In a few days, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) will be launching its 2019 campaign. We applaud their efforts and hope that the intended targets will take heed and exercise greater caution on the roads. It is not encouraging that after many years of campaigning, the NRSC’s message promoting safe driving habits has seemingly fallen on deaf ears.
It is patently clear that enforcement of traffic laws is not as robust as it needs to be. Breaches are often committed in full view of the police and they are ignored. Even with the hefty fines provided for in the new Road Traffic Law, we are convinced that no single measure will adequately address the road-safety dilemma. It has to be tackled on many fronts.
We submit that success will only come about when road users start policing themselves. Can we begin today to take responsibility for the lives of other road users and our own lives?
There needs to be a serious shift in mindset, which will result in greater compliance among road users. People should slow down not only when there is a police speed trap; they should slow down because it is the responsible thing to do. People should not use their cell phones while driving, not simply because they spot the police, but because it is distracting and can lead to an accident.
If we follow the path of being proactive, then every person who uses the road must consider what action he or she can apply to ensure safety on our roads.