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Editors' Forum | Crash Clash - Safety officials cite substandard vehicles but car dealer rubbishes claim

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2019 | 12:23 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
Paula Fletcher, executive director of the National Road Safety Council.
Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council.

Cheap and underdesigned vehicles, primarily those favoured by taxi operators, are being blamed for many of the deaths from crashes on Jamaica’s roads, and traffic experts are urging the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) to implement stringent standards to ensure the safety of hundreds of vehicles entering the island.

At the same time, there are also concerns about the integrity of motorcycles that flood the island in parts, and are oftentimes assembled by cobblers who pay scant regard to instructions, specifications and other best practices.

Head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, Assistant Commissioner of Police Calvin Allen, said last week that many of the lower-end vehicles imported into Jamaica fail to meet United Nations safety standards, adding that many more deaths and serious injuries could have been avoided if they did.

Allen told The Sunday Gleaner that many of the vehicles in Jamaica are bereft of front and rear ‘crumple zones’ and collapsing steering wheels, which reduce the likelihood of serious injury to occupants of motor vehicles.

“We have seen several deaths in head-on collisions and the individuals are slammed into the steering ... . A safer vehicle is so designed that, upon impact, the steering crumples. So there is no impact on the individual,” said the assistant commissioner, who was among guests at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday.

“A safer vehicle is so designed that, upon impact, whether rear or at the front, there is an area known as the crumple zone, where it is built with some sort of a crash bar that prevents the impact from coming to you right at your seat,” he continued. “These little cheap cars that transport most of our people ..., any form of impact on those vehicles and all of those three, four people in the back seat will be gone.

“Even the doors, where a vehicle has that sort of a side impact, in a safer vehicle, passengers suffer less impact or injury because of those bars,” continued Allen, adding that the used-tyre industry in Jamaica is also an issue of great concern with regard to road accidents.

As at last Wednesday, 164 people died in motor vehicle accidents since the start of the year, and dozens more injured in collisions. Last year, 389 persons died in motor vehicle crashes, while 322 persons lost their lives in fatal crashes in 2017.

Representatives from the BSJ could not immediately say last week what safety standards are currently in place for motor vehicles being imported into the island.

Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), also declined comment on that score, noting that with thousands of vehicles being imported into Jamaica annually, the matter is of serious concern.

“What I know they are having difficulties with is to establish a standard, and what I had recommended that they do was to use the UN standard, which is readily available online, and use that to decide what vehicles they are going to import.

“But this is not a small matter; it is a very important matter,” he emphasised, adding that he has met with several government ministers and BSJ representative and urged them to pay more stringent attention to the safety of motor vehicles being imported in Jamaica.

Unsafe motorcycles

Paula Fletcher, executive director of the NRSC, said that motorcycles are sometimes even more unsafe than motor cars.

“The motorbikes come into Jamaica in containers in parts, and most of the times they assemble them here in a backyard, while some of them are sold under tents on the streets. There is something called torque, that’s how much you tighten a screw when you’re assembling a motorbike and the assemblers are not certified,” Fletcher explained.

“So there is a lot of work that we need to do in terms of systems, and the Bureau of Standards Jamaica needs to be put to the task to come up very quickly with the vehicles, motor vehicles, and motorbikes that are imported. Some vehicles that come into Jamaica could not enter a First-World country,” she argued.

Last Friday, however, Lynvalle Hamilton, president of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers’ Association, said that the concerns raised were unfounded, as stringent inspections are done in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Japan, from which 90 per cent of Jamaica’s vehicles are imported.

“I can’t understand how that could be said, because that is the very reason why the Government recently implemented the inspection system where they contracted the services of Auto Terminal Japan to inspect the vehicles before they get here,” he said, noting that the move was aimed at protecting the consumers. The car dealer stated that the inspection regime is even more rigorous in countries such as the United States.

“So I would not agree, because they (vehicles) go through rigorous inspections before they are passed ... . Just about with any vehicle, dependent on the impact, the vehicle might not be able to protect the occupants in the car,” he argued, adding that vehicle suppliers fork out from US$160 to upwards of US$1,000 for inspections, dependent on the type of vehicle.