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Andrew's Agony! - Prime minister warns of strong action as road crashes approach health-crisis level

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2016 | 7:00 AMRyon Jones
Holness

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is considering drastic measures in an effort to stem the carnage on the nation's roads, which he says is approaching a public-health crisis.

The first 202 days of the year have seen 219 road fatalities, up from 210 over the corresponding period last year, with five major crashes occurring in the past two months, each claiming at least three lives.

"To have that many deaths on the road, it is diverting public-health resources in a major way. Aside from that it is also creating an economic drag; the number of families that will now be without their breadwinners and the cost involved in burials," Holness told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Holness, some of the crashes could have been prevented if persons just act responsibly on the roads. It is with this in mind that he is appealing to road users to take responsibility for their own safety and that of other road users.

Notwithstanding the need for road users to be responsible, the prime minister said the Government has a duty as well to design roads that are safe.

SPEED CAMERAS

An obviously worried Holness, who heads the National Road Safety Council, said he has been assured that the requisite signs are in place and traffic police are stationed at known danger points, but the Government will have to take things a step further by utilising technology.

"I essentially said to the NWA (National Works Agency), which is in charge of the expansion work that is to be done on the Mandela Highway, that it should, within that work, incorporate speeding cameras that will not just capture the speed of the vehicles, but licence plates of motor vehicles so we can start the process of prosecuting those persons who are caught speeding."

Of the 219 persons who have died on the nation's roads since the start of the year, 68 or 31 per cent were from motorcycle crashes, and Holness has noted that disturbing trend.

"Much more work has to be done on educating cyclists on the use of the roadway and ensuring that they take precautions with wearing their helmets and riding in colours that are bright at nights and maintain the speed limit."

Holness added that efforts will be made to bring forward as quickly as possible the amended Road Traffic Act to allow for the prosecuting of persons who exceed the speed limits.

In the meantime, executive director of the National Road Safety Council, Paula Fletcher, is calling for a reworking of the system of issuing tickets to motorists who do not obey the rules of the road.

According to Fletcher, the ticketing system is not proving to be an effective deterrent as there are persons driving around with more than 900 outstanding traffic tickets.

EDUCATING CYCLISTS

"This type of thinking affects behaviour, when you can keep getting away with things. Because I can behave like this, and even if the police stop me and I get a ticket they can't even verify where I live," said Fletcher.

"If I have an address on the database and I move six times, it is an offence not to inform of the new address, but the system does not keep up with people who change addresses," said Fletcher.

Head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen, admitted that there are some issues with the ticketing system, but does not think arresting persons who are caught speeding is a viable option.

"There are some areas within the ticketing system that need sorting out, but people are getting their tickets and going and paying their tickets," said Allen.

"We wouldn't have prisons to put a lot of people (caught speeding), so we have to be rational and careful in how we deal with the issue."

Statistics from the Police Traffic Division revealed that more than 233,000 tickets have been issued since the start of the year, with 60-65 per cent of them having been paid and some being contested.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com