Wed | Feb 21, 2018

Looking back, looking forward | A better year for road safety

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
This Toyota Corolla motor car ran into the perimetre fence at the construction site for the GraceKennedy Corporate headquarters on Port Royal Street. There were no injuries. GraceKennedy’s post on socia media read: “We are so relieved for the driver, the occupants and pedestrians in the area #Roadsafety”.
An accident involving a Subaru Forester motor car and a Toyota public passenger bus at the intersection of Water Lane and Pechon Street in Kingston. No severe injuries reported.
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The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) as mandated by Parliament to be the lead agency - in managing the efforts to reduce road traffic injuries, has had to date a better year than last year. We may not achieve the BELOW-300 target, but the fatality rate will certainly be significantly less than the 379 in 2016, and 382 in 2015, given the encouraging 15 per cent decline to date - 270 deaths vs 319 last year.

One important strategy is to target those categories of road users who head up the list of fatalities; and motorcyclists who comprise more than 30 per cent of those dying, up from 15 per cent in 2010, are the biggest challenge. In that respect, the NRSC has mobilsed all stakeholders to place a priority on reducing deaths in this groups, including setting up a special committee, proving funding for training sessions with bikers, meeting with motorcycle groups, and we will soon launch a major public education campaign targeting bikers.

The key message is that #helmetssavelives as more than 90 per cent of those killed were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

Early in the new year, we convened a special planning meeting at the University of the West Indies (UWI), at which the #BELOW300 target was established; and the Traffic Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was encouraged to continue its aggressive monitoring of all our roads, especially those identified by the Mona Geoinformatic Centre as ' black spots' ( two or more fatal crashes). With more than 420,000 tickets issued so far this year, compared to 360,000 in 2016, all things being equal, Senior Superintendent of Police Calvin Allen and his team have, therefore, made a significant contribution to the reduction in road fatalities and are to be highly commended.

Another key message that we are developing is #SlowDown. Data from the WHO reveal that a five per cent reduction in average speed can result in a 30 per cent reduction in fatalities. In that respect, we have been given the green light, and funds have been committed, for us to launch a major #SlowDown programme across the island, starting in the west, where so many bikers are dying. Nontheless, we intend to ensure the island wide focus as though 83 motorcyclists have died for this year, so, too, 69 pedestrians, 46 private motor car drivers, and 32 private motor car passengers.

One critical element that has been missing in our road safety programme is ongoing research by a university. Research conducted by then consultant surgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies Dr Archibald McDonald, is what triggered the establishment of the NRSC in 1993. We are, therefore, very pleased that funds have been committed, from the GOJ and an international agency (The FIA Foundation), to enable us to establish a partnership with the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Research Centre to carry out this much-needed research, hopefully to commence before year end.

New Road Traffic Act will give tools to cut road injuries

In respect of government policy, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) is anxiously awaiting the passage of the new Road Traffic Act, which will give us additional tools to make an even better impact on road traffic injuries.

The NRSC also awaits the implementation of a policy, with which our chairman, the prime minister, is seized of its importance, on the use of cameras in enforcing the law, especially red-light infractions and speeding violations.

The recent decision by the United Nations to include road safety in two of its sustainable development goals (SDGs) - Healthy Lives, and Safe Cities, goals 3 and 11, respectively - underscores the vital importance of this issue, not just for Jamaica, but for the entire world.

Especially in developing countries such as ours, where research has shown that we can lose between three to five per cent of our gross domestic product as a result of road traffic injuries.

In that context, the recent commitment by the prime minister, at a #Slowdown event held in Jamaica during the UN-sponsored week of road safety in May 2017, to "do all we can to achieve the UN Decade of Action target of reducing road deaths by 50 per cent", means that the GOJ, all stakeholders, and road users, led by the NRSC, will need to elevate road safety in Jamaica to a new level of priority and operations. This is our challenge for 2018, and we already have the tools to effect this change.

- Dr Lucien Jones, deputy chairman, National Road Safety Council