BUSTING BIKES! - Road safety crusaders and dealer tussle over the safety of motorcycles assembled here
There are fears that a local assembly line for motorcycles is putting out substandard bikes and this could be contributing to the number of riders and pillions dying on the nation's roads.
Of the 382 road fatalities recorded in Jamaica last year, 111 were motorcyclists, while up to April 28 of this year, there have been 132 deaths from crashes, with 43 of them being bikers.
The recently established Motorcycle Safety Committee, which includes representatives of the Ministry of Transport, the Island Traffic Authority, Jamaica Motorbike Association, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) and Jamaica Automobile Association, is expressing concern that the assembling of motorcycles could be going on without any regard to specifications.
"So it is possible that some of the crashes may be due to improper assembling," Victor Anderson, coordinator of the Below 240 programme at the NRSC, told The Sunday Gleaner.
DEALERS GUILTY TOO
According to Anderson, he believes that not only individuals but also some motorcycle dealers are guilty of the practice.
Anderson said some dealers could be importing partially assembled bikes so as to pack more units into the shipping containers.
"There are two things happening. There are some people who are getting the bike parts in the proverbial barrel, and that one is totally disassembled and the people are free to do what they want in terms of assembly," said Anderson.
"Some of them buy it from a dealer, (and) what we are saying is that we are not aware of any particular rules governing how those dealers assemble the bikes and whether they do it in accordance with specifications that the manufacturer sets," added Anderson.
But Derrick Johnson, CEO and managing director of Superior Parts Limited, one of the largest motorcycle dealers across the island, has scoffed at this claim.
"That is utter nonsense. The road-safety people are desperate so they are engaging in pure speculation with no statistics to back up those claims," Johnson told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said the phenomenon of barrel bikes was once a reality as persons sought to evade the 600 CC limit, which was imposed on motorcycles by taking in the parts of motorcycles rated at 1,000 CC and assembling them here.
"But they could not licence or register these motorcycles so that was not a major occurrence. For us, the dealers we carry and assemble the smaller bikes such as you see the bearers driving, and we have to register them for $5,000 to $6,000, and then we have to have a government inspector come in and inspect them, ride them and pass them.
"So if they are not assembled to the specification, that cannot be passed," added Johnson, who has spearheaded a programme for a motorcycle assembly, repairs centre and riding programme at the Corporate Area-based Norman Manley High School.
Johnson argued that the increasing number of road fatalities involving motorcycles reflects the sharp increase in their numbers on the roads.
"Because of the economic times, the price of gas, and the congestion on the roads more persons turning to bikes, and I estimate that there has been a seven times increase, so if you had 1,000 bikes on the road you now have 7,000.
"And even if an out-of-control car driver hits and kills a motorcyclists who is observing all the rules, that is going to count as a motorcycle road fatality. I'm not saying there are not some persons riding foolishly but the road-safety people are just talking without facts," said Johnson.
In the meantime, chairman of the NRSC, Dr Lucien Jones, highlighted that when the road safety council was established in 1993 the average number of road fatalities annually was in excess of 400.
"The single greatest contributor to that has to do with the number of motorcyclists who are dying on our roads."
The police have had their hands full when it comes to dealing with motorcyclists on the nation's roads, according to head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen.
"We have been seizing a lot of motorcycles in the western end, but the owners don't come back for those motorcycles. They just go to the shop and purchase another one," said Allen.
"Significant also is the fact that those motorcycles are not registered, not licensed, insured; nothing. That is also coupled with the fact that most of those drivers of the motorcycles have not been trained to operate a motorcycle on the road ... coupled with that is the non-wearing of protective gears."
Of the 43 motorcyclists who died on the nation's roads up to April 28, Westmoreland accounted for 18 of them; three times more than the next parish, St Elizabeth (six).