Orville Taylor | Rode traffic – Act carefully
Hindsight is 20-20 and as the Road Safety Council and others go back to the sketchpad regarding the recent passage of the Road Traffic Act, my sympathies are with the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as they try to enforce some of...
Hindsight is 20-20 and as the Road Safety Council and others go back to the sketchpad regarding the recent passage of the Road Traffic Act, my sympathies are with the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as they try to enforce some of the legislative changes, which they as individuals might not even agree with. As we deliberate the most vexed issue of the poster child of the dissonance, child safety seats in public passenger vehicles, we are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Those of us, who are privileged; Yes!!! Privileged, to drive private motor cars, even if they are co-owned by our credit unions, understand that child seats are sine qua non. Like seat belts, they have a measurable impact on the likelihood of being hurt or killed in a motor vehicle crash. Only hard-headed defiant people resist the use of seat belts. Apart from them making you feel more comfortable when your electric vehicle is zipping along silently, studies including some facilitated by the United States (US) Department of Transportation have shown that they reduce fatality rates by anything between 75 and 45 per cent.
Across the US some 18,000 lives are spared by the simple act of buckling up. And if the buckle is applied to the idle mouth and loose tongue, the numbers could be even higher.
But what is the science behind child seats? Well, for children who are aged two and under or within the average size range, it is a no-brainer. Recent research by the American Centers for Disease Control points to car seats reducing, “…the risk for injury in a crash by 71–82 per cent for children, when compared with seat belt use alone”. Moreover, booster seats for children between the ages of four and eight cut the death rate by half.
Doubtless, this is a difficult statistic to ignore, as a mother’s arms, which cannot hold on to an errant spouse, are unable to restrain a child in a crash even at 40 kilometres per hour. However, from a policy and priority point of view, what percentage of our fatalities are babies, toddlers and infants, who take public passenger vehicles? After all, most working-class parents, whose lower-strata children typically attend primary and secondary schools, have to take public transport, and they are those most affected. The class implication of this is obvious and the government must be judicious in avoiding further marginalisation of its less-fortunate electors.
Interestingly, many metropolitan countries do not require taxi cabs to use child-restraint seats. Neither is there such an imperative on buses. True, unlike our JUTC buses, and Coasters which are faster than an inquisitive neighbour’s mouth, metrobuses often have not only statutory limits on their speed, but their engines and fuel injectors are ‘governed’. Thus, they typically travel with the pace of politicians declaring their assets. On trains, like the subways in the US, UK and even the hyper-fast TGV in France, kids are not buckled. Let me rest regarding aeroplanes. Of note, people do get flung from buses in Jamaica and die, because they have no seat belts on.
So let us touch the true poster-child of the crisis; motorcycles. Like the challenge between lawlessness and the extant reality, they are extremely difficult to balance. After all, they still need two more wheels and fenders to be safe motor vehicles. Of course, there is a personal prejudice, because I’ve never fallen from a car. However, in this country, they have represented a gaping policy hole.
The numbers haven’t been crunched yet; but police intelligence is that they figure very frequently in homicides, robbery and other acts of violence. Difficult to pursue, and with the requirement for helmets, the riders can easily obscure, if not conceal their identities. Government’s first challenge is to tighten the importation and to force the purchasers and vendors to fully pass fitness tests, get licensed, and insured, before bikes leaving the compound. Inasmuch as we know that ‘barrel bikes’ find themselves on the road, once here, the tight regulation under the act must help in the overall protection from criminality. Unlike motor cars, the authorities can seize multiple bikes in one operation.
For too long our riders of motorcyclists have had a free run. Not wishing to discriminate against any particular make or model, but there is one which is both an eponym and an onomatopoeia. Its twice repeated name is as annoying as the normal sound of its exhaust system. The loud noises are major nuisances and all sensible Jamaicans welcome penalties for removal of the mufflers.
Riding a bike is not a job for an amateur. He must get a bike driver’s licence and thus be able to legally carry a pillion and do his delivery work. If the theory is that untrained and undisciplined drivers are behind the majority of the 480 fatal crashes in 2022; then the 141 death caused by motorcycles cannot be ignored.
Still, we have to recognise that some bikers have to take their multiple children to school and there is a bike-taxi sub-sector out west. However, much of this points to the inadequacy of the system provided by government to safely get us from point A to B.
By the way, speed kills and that applies to the implementation of laws when the social and economic infrastructure are inadequate. Haste makes waste. More anon.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.