Where is the outrage?
Road safety advocates press for bigger investments in public education, safer roads
Executive director of the National Road Safety Council, Paula Fletcher, is once again bemoaning the ongoing failure of successive governments to make the requisite investments in a safer islandwide road network, even as road deaths and injuries continue to climb.
The 487 persons killed on our roads last year was the highest since 1985, according to data provided by the Road Safety Unit in the Policy Planning and Research Division of the Ministry of Transport and Mining. The same data show that the annual death toll has stayed well over the 400 mark since 2019 at 440, 433 in 2021, and projections for 462 in 2022 and 471 in 2023.
“Where is the outrage, where is the outcry? It cannot be business as usual,” a frustrated Fletcher asked during the recent launch of the annual Road Safety Awareness Month, hosted by the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association.
The figures show that road fatalities up to Tuesday, June 21, show that 226 persons have died in 200 road crashes, compared to the 227 killed in 203 crashes for the comparative period last year. According to director of the Road Safety Unit, Deidre Hudson Sinclair, 59 motorists died as a result of excessive speeding, while 27 motorists died from failing to keep to the nearside or in the proper traffic lane. Sixteen pedestrians died when they were struck while walking or standing in the road.
For Fletcher, greater enforcement of the law, coupled with greater public education are urgent measures that must be implemented. She also stressed that Jamaica’s entire road infrastructure needed to be safer, if road deaths and injuries are to be reduced.
The 2017 publication Cost of Care: The Burden of Violence-related Injuries and Road Traffic Crashes to the Health Care System of Jamaica revealed that taxpayers foot approximately $3.2 billion annually for the care of crash victims. The direct cost to hospitals is $1.4 billion, with hospital stays accounting for 13 per cent, or $182 million.
Another 24 per cent is for consultation with doctors, while dressing and disposables were 19 per cent of the cost. Exam/X-ray, convalescence, outpatients, drugs, blood and intravenous fluid, intensive care, and operations account for the remainder.
In August 2020, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘Improving Global Road Safety’ and proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety from 2021-2030, setting an ambitious target of preventing at least 50 per cent of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030. The policy and action plan for the decade have been framed within the widely accepted five pillars of the safe systems approach to road safety: road safety management, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer users and post-crash care.
Opposition spokesman on transport, housing and works, Mikael Phillips, lamented that the annual budget for the Road Safety Unit had been frozen for many years, with half of the amount going to pay salaries. Fletcher supported his call for the unit to be given more financial resources.
“We spend the money but we spend it in the hospitals. Who, I dare ask, is going to have the vision to be able to switch that equation and invest in road safety, rather than have it as an expense?” she challenged the four legislators in attendance.“Lovely to see all you politicians here but who is going to make that step to be able to switch the equation and invest in road safety, rather than have is an expense,” Fletcher pressed, but there were no takers.
Minister of Transport and Mining Audley Shaw, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz, Opposition Spokesperson on Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell and Phillips were in attendance.