Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Let my daughter's death save your life

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In early November, I visited with my daughter, a medical student at UWI, where she was living at Rex Nettleford Hall; then with my older son, who attends UTech and lives in the Papine area.

As I was leaving the parking lot of the complex where my son lives, a small Nissan pickup entered and parked. As I made my way to Liguanea, a similar pickup overtook me in the vicinity of the KFC restaurant. It held my attention because it came unusually close while overtaking. My immediate impression was that the driver was drunk. However, his speed was not excessive and he held a straight line as the vehicle pulled away from me.

The pickup failed to slow down as it approached the 90-degree turn where traffic from Liguanea merges with traffic coming from Papine to pass between the Restaurants of Jamaica compound and the Chinese restaurant across from it. It jumped the triangular median at that point, entered the right lane of the thoroughfare carrying traffic from Liguanea towards Papine, and stopped only after it struck something.

Having seen that, I placed a call back to my son to find out if the pickup that had parked at the complex when I was leaving was still there. It was. At that point, I made a mental note that the roadway was patently unsafe, for there were no proper barriers to prevent vehicles of one sort or the other jumping the medians at several points along that road and crossing into oncoming traffic.

On the night of November 11, 2014, I once again visited with those two children to say goodbye as I was leaving with the Jamaican teams to the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico as one of the teams' physicians the next day. It was late and I was tired, but I spent some time with my daughter and her friends, then hugged her, kissed her, told her I loved her, and encouraged her about her upcoming exams.

As it turned out, that would be the last time I would see my daughter alive. In the early morning hours of November 29, 2014, my daughter, Danielle Hanson, and her fellow first-semester medical student, Mikhail Campbell, died in a motor vehicle accident on Old Hope Road in the vicinity of Jamaica College. It occurred close to the same place where that pickup had overtaken me a few weeks before.

Dan and Mikhail were part of a larger group of students gathered in a common area on campus diligently studying until late for upcoming exams. They both got hungry and went to get food in Liguanea with Danielle driving my car. On the way back to campus, the accident occurred, and they both died.

The information I have is that the conditions were wet and overcast. The police theorise that the left rear tyre struck a kerb or median, the tyre blew out, Dan lost control of the vehicle, it crossed the median and was struck by a Prado heading in the opposite direction.

There is ample evidence along that road to support the claim that it is patently unsafe. That section of the Restaurants of Jamaica compound that faces oncoming traffic from Papine is demarcated by a high concrete wall bearing numerous black marks at various levels. Those marks, I believe, were left there by vehicles like the Nissan pickup, which failed to negotiate that section of road safely.

Poor Visibility

Many of the utility poles that were meant to provide ambient lighting for the roadway down its centre are now gone. All that remains of them are exposed wires, metal stumps, or nothing at all. Given the nature of what's left of them, I believe it is safe to assume that they were uprooted by vehicle strikes. In wet, overcast conditions, the lack of adequate ambient lighting will affect the visibility of fixtures, signs, and hazards along the roadway.

At certain points along that roadway, the medians consist of kerb blocks a few inches high, some of which are merely fragments. Closer to Liguanea, there are islands of low medians separated by pavement only. There is therefore no effective barrier to protect vehicles on one side from crossover incidents with vehicles going in the opposite direction.

Finally, when it rains, the roadway itself becomes the functional drain to dispose of the water. Vehicles therefore run the risk of losing traction and control.

Independent of, and unknown to each other or myself, three fathers took it upon themselves to drive the route Dan drove that night, under the same wet conditions, about the same time the accident happened.

Since Dan's accident, bright yellow road paint has been used to highlight the kerbs, medians, and stakes that separate the lanes of traffic travelling in opposite directions. I suspect that if one were to conduct some research, the statistics would show that bright yellow paint on ineffective barriers won't reduce accident and fatality rates by much, if at all. In my opinion, painting ineffective barriers along a roadway with bright colours does not add any protection against crossover incidents and the cost of accidents and casualties will quickly outstrip the cost of the paint.

Studies done by many municipalities have shown repeatedly that the installation of appropriate barriers along busy thoroughfares, carrying multiple lanes of traffic in opposite directions, will always dramatically reduce the number of crossover incidents, as well as the fatalities from such incidents.

The most effective barriers are the modular concrete barriers, or Jersey Barriers, which are a form of rigid barrier. The design of those barriers was derived from research and testing conducted at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the 1950s. That design has been shown to deflect, rather than directly damage, the tyres of vehicles that strike them. They also deflect the forces of impact rather than resist them, thereby minimising damage and injuries.

Better In The Long Run

Their height ensures good visibility but also prevent vehicles jumping the medians and crossing over into oncoming traffic. They are the most expensive to install but they are the least expensive to maintain because they can usually withstand several strikes without the need to repair or replace them.

Less expensive than the concrete barriers are the steel guard rails mounted on stakes in the ground at intervals. These are semi-rigid barriers. However, these are not as effective as the concrete barriers and require higher maintenance, as repairs or replacement are usually needed after vehicle strikes.

Both rigid and semi-rigid systems deflect by zero to four feet on impact. The third most utilised barriers are metal cable barriers. These have the greatest deflection (8-12 ft) on impact and tend to absorb and dissipate the energy of an impact laterally. They are less expensive to install but require greater maintenance. All three systems, with or without bright yellow road paint, are safer than what currently obtains.

Both the steel guard rails and the metal cable barriers have been shown to be more hazardous to cyclists than the concrete barriers. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report No. 350 (NC HRP 350) outlines the standards by which roadside safety features are judged in the USA.

My daughter was bright, absolutely beautiful, focused, and priceless. She and Mikhail had hopes and dreams and were full of promise. Perhaps it's time to spare other families a similar tragedy and fix the problem.

David hanson

Box 384, Mandeville Manchester