EDITORIAL - Death on the roads
The grim statistics of 20 road deaths in a week has predictably fired up the road-safety lobby. But without seeking to diminish the seriousness of the situation, we must acknowledge that the voices of the lobby are the same tired ones, offering few solutions to this nagging problem.
We submit that fresh, imaginative minds are needed to create new strategies and/or incentives to induce road users to exercise more care and a greater sense of responsibility on the nation's streets.
In the recent catalogue of road carnage, speeding taxis figured in several instances which signal that operators of public-passenger vehicles continue to put the lives of the travelling public in danger. Another thing to note is that the victims of traffic accidents are usually in the productive prime of their lives. This is not new, and again we ask the question: What is to be done about these reckless bus and taxi operators? For example, is it time for us to consider getting buses to install alcohol-ignition interlocks, which guarantee that a vehicle will not start if the driver has been drinking?
Operators of public-passenger vehicles are often guilty of flouting the rules of the road and invariably, when they are involved in accidents, it is "discovered" that they have accumulated multiple unpaid traffic tickets over many months.
The culture of disrespect for law and order is deeply entrenched in our country and includes ignoring traffic rules and tickets issued for violations. Motorists convert two lanes into three, they stop indiscriminately to let off or pick up passengers. Where are the police in all of this? The Police Traffic Department is one which requires strong, uncompromising leadership. But more than that, police personnel should act responsibly by ensuring the apprehension of traffic offenders. This ought to apply even if he or she is not officially assigned traffic duties. Too often, the police, whose duty is to serve and protect, turn a blind eye to these violations and by so doing, embolden the offenders.
The experts name five risk factors - speeding, drunk driving, no helmet, no seat belt, and no child restraint - as the main causes of accidents. Additionally, factors such as cell-phone usage, poor road conditions and vehicles which are not roadworthy also cause accidents.
Jamaica needs to devise measures that will address these risks and have a marked difference in reducing the number of persons killed and maimed on our streets each year.
A joint select committee of Parliament is now reviewing the Road Traffic Act with a view to introducing drastic changes in how licences are obtained, road usage and more stringent punishment for traffic violations. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable category of road users and ways of keeping them safe should hopefully figure in this new law. Of course, legislation by itself will not change a thing. The implementation of the law and the swift apprehension of offenders is what will determine the success of these measures.
From all indications, the Island Traffic Authority (ITA) will play a key regulatory role in overseeing the new act. The ITA has long been perceived as culpable in the improper issuing of licences and passing motor vehicles as being fit and proper. Indeed, members of this department have been hauled before the courts from time to time to answer corruption charges. So cleaning up the ITA has to be a priority. Next to be considered is the implementation mandate. What is the point in writing dozens of traffic tickets when the fines are not collected? Alert policing is also required to make it work.
Then there is education. The greatest challenge is how to get the road-safety message across to the population so that people will change their attitude of indifference.
The United Nations has designated 2011 to 2020 the decade of Action for Road Safety. We cannot squander this opportunity to implement meaningful changes and make our roads safer for all.
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