Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
By July 2 last year Jamaica had already racked up 158 road fatalities. It did not bode well for the Save 300 Lives campaign's intention to restrict road fatalities to under 300 for the year. By the end of 2011, 308 motorists and pedestrians had been killed on Jamaica's roads.
This year, however, the country is doing better in the macabre race between the calendar and the Grim Reaper cruising Jamaica's roads. As of July 2, 2012, there were 123 deaths, a 22 per cent decline from last year.
Executive director of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), Paula Fletcher, pointed to an even more encouraging statistic - a 39 per cent decline in pedestrian fatalities when the same time periods are compared. There were 59 fatalities in 2012, that falling to 36 in 2011. Even more striking is the decrease from 14 child fatalities to one, a 93 per cent fall.
As one death is too many there is not a general celebration, but the results are, naturally, encouraging, Fletcher saying "I think everyone is motivated".
It has been four years since the Save 300 campaign was launched. In 2007 there were 350 road fatalities, there was a dip to 343 in 2008, in 2009 a slight increase to 347 and then a steady decline of 319 in 2010 and 308 in 2011.
Save 300 began in the context of Jamaica having a national road safety policy which, Fletcher said, "we found was not meeting the qualitative and quantitative goals". There was a need to re-energise and rebrand road safety, which Fletcher pointed out is actually a product.
That product is good health, reduction of costs to the health sector, wholesome family life, a positive impact on the gross domestic product and sustainable development. "When you look at developing countries the level of aid we get is about equal to the losses due to traffic fatalities," Fletcher said.
In rebranding road safety there was the need to have a tangible target to work towards, which would re-energise the country. The figure was decided on because the last time road fatalities were below 300 was in 1999, when 295 people lost their lives. Earlier in the decade the alarming figures of 428 (1992), 434 (1993) and 385 (1994) were recorded. Fletcher pointed out that in 1999 there was a substantial public-education campaign around the introduction of mandatory seat-belt and helmet wear.
There are a number of factors at work in the current decline, Fletcher pointing out that "currently public education has been at the highest". Among those are the recently concluded Road Safety Poster Competition, held under the theme 'Our Safety, Our Responsibility'. There is also the police, Fletcher saying that "we have a very vigilant, fearless head of traffic, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis who runs the streets as best as he can with the resources he has. We get statistics from them every morning by text message".
The Road Safety Unit in the Ministry of Transport and Works also does primary-school visits, setting up road simulations and showing the children how to operate. "Little by little the children are being exposed," Fletcher said.
Fletcher reminded Automotives about the raised hand crossing signal which was introduced for children a few years ago and within a short period there was a huge decline in child road fatalities.
The Island Traffic Authority is also on the job, doing road checks.
Looking ahead, Fletcher anticipates even better results in the road-safety campaign with regulations on new driver instruction and amendments to the Road Traffic Act to come into effect.
"I think shortly you will hear us talking about save 200," Fletcher said.