We are not tired - NRSC
My initial response to The Gleaner's editorial on Saturday, September 6, on the recent surge in road fatalities and the characterisation of the response of the road-safety lobby group (National Road Safety Council, NRSC) as the 'same tired voices offering few solutions', was 'ouch'. But then as I looked at the essence of the point that the author was making, viz, road safety is serious business, I reconsidered my position.
The central point is that we need to be quite dispassionate and open to new suggestions and constructive criticisms on a matter of such vital importance to our nation and, indeed, the entire world community. For, as we do our best to reduce road traffic injuries - and a fall from an average of 400 fatalities per year to under 300 under our watch since 1993 is no small matter - serious discussions are taking place at the level of the United Nations to incorporate road safety and a significant reduction of road fatalities as part of the United Nations-sponsored sustainable development goals for 2030.
Following the lead of The Gleaner editorial we need to pose the question, what new and creative solutions are out there that we can tap and help prevent a mother and her five-year-old child from dying needlessly on our roads? Or a young man who refuses to wear his helmet whilst riding and perishes when the motorcycle crashes? What else, apart from the tried and proven 'vaccines' offered by the UN and World Health Organisation, can we identify and use for the good of our nation?
Far too many young men are still riding motorcycles without the use of helmets. And they are dying because of this bad habit. A lot! Especially in the western part of the island. And it is not for lack of effort by the police.
Even the legendary retired Senior Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Lewis, under whose leadership as head of the Traffic Department of the Jamaica Constabulary Force we achieved the below 300 target in 2012, admitted that he could not stop them without placing the lives of his men and those determined motorcyclists in danger. So who can? The MPs in Westmoreland? Strong community action?
Further, far too many people are still not wearing seat belts in the front seat and even less in the back seats, thus making persons more vulnerable to being seriously injured during crashes.
CULTURE OF IMPATIENCE
We have a major task on our hands to curb the culture of impatience on our roads, leading to speeding and worse, the 'out and bad' phenomenon where drivers either overtake long lines of traffic or, worse, 'undertake'. It is a kind of 'madness' which often leads to death and injury. Who then will bell this cat and put an end to this socially destructive behaviour? What creative new ideas can we put in place to deal with this wanton disregard of the recommended 'vaccines'? For admittedly, we have failed in some respects on some of these issues.
The other part of the problem is that unless the country, through its elected Government, is prepared to allocate sufficient funds to deal with the issue of road safety, we will forever be visited by surges of increased fatalities and calls for new and creative solutions. And therefore more roads, as currently obtains on some of the new highways, need to be designed and constructed to prevent head-on collisions which often result in multiple deaths in one crash.
Further, in pursuit of the safe-systems approach, safe speed limits are needed at junctions and where traffic and pedestrians mix - which, in Jamaica, is a big problem and which significantly contributes to the high level of pedestrian deaths. Finally, unless the police have the requisite tools to fight this scourge of road fatalities, we will not make as much progress in the long run as we ought to.
The second part of the possible 'new approach' is to form more partnerships with established agencies and groups where the potential for assisting greatly in reducing road fatalities is present, but lies largely untapped.
Whatever the viewpoint, what we would seriously object to is that we are 'tired' and, by implication, lacking in zeal.
We would therefore suggest that, in addition to a call for more creative action on our part, that The Gleaner joins with us in urging both the Government and the private sector to up the ante in terms of their recognition of the internationally accepted viewpoint that road safety is a developmental issue and therefore warrants greater and more resources to achieve this sustainable development goal.
Dr Lucien W. Jones is vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council.