Fatalities in motorcycle accidents causes alarm
Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator
The high rate of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists within the Lucea and Negril geographical area is causing alarm within the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) of the Jamaica Fire Brigade.
Head of the Hanover EMS, District Officer Taleeni Francis, told Western Focus that the situation is worsening as the number of motorbikes and riders within the region has quadrupled since 2011.
"For the past three years, we have noticed a drastic increase in motorbike owners. This increase comes with a decreased level of safety because the motorbike riders don't practice safety in terms of wearing helmets and all the safety gears that should be worn," Francis said.
"Sad to say, but the age group between 12 years and to about 30 has been getting the most injuries ... and most of these guys who ride the bikes don't even have a provisional licence," Francis added.
He said Lucea's lone EMS ambulance is old and unreliable, so many times assistance cannot be rendered to victims and, in some cases, it might already be responding to other calls when an accident occurs. In 2012, the Lucea and Negril EMS centres combined attended to 473 or 69 per cent of the 603 trauma cases to which the nations' six EMS centres responded. That year, the Lucea ambulance was out of action for approximately 60 per cent of the time.
In 2013, the Lucea ambulance was out of action all months except May and part of September. The 14-year-old ambulance was also out of action for a large portion of 2014.
The Negril EMS reported that in 2012 it responded to 127 motorcycle accidents, 175 in 2013 and 154 last year, during which, many riders were maimed or otherwise injured. Two persons died at the accident scenes in both 2012 and 2013, while one died on the spot last year, and others died subsequently at hospital, but would not be on the EMS records.
Francis said that apart from the motorbikes not being tested for fitness, the demonstration of stunts by riders was also a key contributor to the number of accidents.
"Many are riding without regard for other motorists or pedestrians. They just ride carelessly - many ride with all their bodies fully in a supine position - stretched out on the bike like birds. That is one of their favourite styles of riding, and there is no way anybody at all can manoeuvre a bike properly under those conditions. They have times that they stand on the seat and recently everybody has become 'stuntists'," Francis said.
When Western Focus spoke to a 21-year-old bike rider from Hanover, he said some riders were prone to accidents because they had not familiarised themselves with the Jamaican Road Code and failure to pay attention to the road. He also said the cost of insurance and licensing was prohibitive.
"When I go insure, it costs me more than $30,000 and about $6,000 to licence for the year, so me no go back go renew after it expire, because it too expensive, but me still ride. Some a di rider dem naw read the road code book and dem ride and gaze. Me naw ride like a idiot ... although me ride hard, me ride and think bout me life. Me no lie down pon my bike like plane and them thing deh. A four years me a ride bike and me neva crash yet. Plus, me read my road code book from ever since," he said.
The riding pattern of the motorcyclists in Negril has not gone unnoticed by some visitors to the island. School teacher and resident of Baltimore, in the United States, Jesse Stovall, a multiple repeat visitor to Negril, told Western Focus that an education programme could help to correct the issue.
"As a tourist, I feel a little uneasy about the way some of the motorcyclists ride their bikes, particularly on the west end. But, I also recognise the utility of the bikes for transportation," Stovall said. "It seems that the solution will not be found in policing, traffic enforcement or other regulation of the bikes, but rather in educating people, young and old about the dangers of operating any motor vehicle. And education must include teaching about the specific dangers of operating these bikes in a reckless manner, without instruction or the use of proper safety equipment."
Stovall's sentiments are shared by Francis. The officer said key on his department's agenda this year will be sensitisation workshops and a health fair for motorcyclists.
"We would love to incorporate the traffic department because I am sure that the police can attest to the increase work they are now having. Numerous times, I see motorbike riders just pass the police and the police try to stop them and they just pass the police like they are not there. We will ask the insurance companies and tax office to come and explain to them that it is not a hard task to get the bikes roadworthy, in terms of licensing and insuring. Of course, the EMS will come in with safety; the police will educate them on the Road Traffic Act and how to use the road in the proper manner," he said.