Ronald Thwaites | Missing the point
Somewhere around 300 people die on Jamaican roads every year. The gruesome stories dominate the news for a flash, then are easily forgotten either because there is a competing report of another fatality or because, just to survive emotionally, we grow layers of scar tissue.
Why do we put up with this largely avoidable carnage? Not to mention the cost, both economic and personal, of the thousands of non-fatal crashes which run into billions of dollars lost and productive capacity squandered.
What is behind the epidemic of speeding and other types of human fault which are blamed for road disasters? Because we do not thoroughly interrogate such questions, the road safety campaign ends up with little more than fervent advice to slow down and the pious hope that the new Road Traffic Act will make things better.
We are missing the point. The truth is that for years, driver's licences have been bought and sold to persons, some of whom are illiterate, others of unbalanced temperament, drunkards or drug addicts and most often to persons who have undergone little, if any, driver education let alone been examined professionally.
ADVOCATES FOR CHANGE
Full well knowing this, why do motor insurance underwriters continue to open themselves to liability instead of being powerful advocates for a change of the culture?
Up to now, there are no coherent standards of driver education. Add to the above the increased peril occasioned by the congestion of more than 700,000 motor vehicles and the prevalence of motorcycle riders who operate on a learner's permit for as long as they care: all able to touch 120km before you quint, and most are able to outrun the police.
But there is more. Many thousands operators who qualified to drive a long time ago are not in the same physical or mental shape required for defensive driving on today's roads, yet continue at their peril, and ours, by simply paying a money every five years.
The much-touted Road Traffic Bill stands only a remote chance of being passed before Parliament rises for the summer. And even then, the provisions are not strong enough to curb the slackness on Jamaica's roadways.
Hopefully, the corruption in the issuance of permits will be eradicated as an administrative corollary of the new legislative order, but that will only be a start of the required therapy.
- Here are some proposals. A permit to drive is an important step in upward mobility - no longer a luxury or optional extra in the lives of most people. So the HEART Trust, which is the National Training Agency, ought to be mandated to be responsible for driver education in partnership with reputable and certified private instructors.
- Wherever possible, driver certification ought to take place in high school for those who exhibit the maturity of personality and skill to become young drivers. Do this and watch the boys straighten up!
- Whenever a driver is found guilty of careless or dangerous driving, in addition to any fine, they should be a required to undergo rigorous retesting, for which a proper fee must be charged.
- Finally, given the blood and gore caused by driver carelessness, just as a regular health check-up is advised yearly, surely submitting to a review of one's driving skills ought to happen at least every 10 or 15 years.
Measures like these will very likely reduce the ignorance and carelessness now rampant. Issuing endless tickets, collecting fines and begging people to decrease speed alone won't cut it. It is really pathetic when we 'samfi' ourselves by continuing to miss the real point!
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.