Growth & Jobs | Road crashes affect socio-economic development
The high incidence of road traffic crashes in Jamaica is troubling and a great cause for concern for road safety stakeholders, due to its undesirable socio-economic impact.
Statistics provided by the Road Traffic Unit in the Ministry of Transport and Mining shows that 2,000 fatal crashes have occurred over the past five years, accounting for the deaths of 2,237 persons. Last year, there were 425 fatal collisions in which a record 488 persons were killed. Excessive speeding was the major contributor to the crashes. So far this year, as at January 30, there have been 20 crashes, resulting in 22 fatalities.
Not only are road crashes preventable, but they cause a significant financial strain on the health sector when victims have to get medical care, often amounting to millions of dollars per person. In addition, road crashes affect productivity and disrupt families’ income streams when persons lose their lives or have become incapacitated due to severe injury and are unable to work, and, in some instances, unable to care for themselves.
Marissa, not her real name, a resident of Spanish Town, St Catherine, related how her world turned upside down when her husband was involved in a motorcycle crash in 2020. He was working in a new job as a bearer for less than a month when the crash happened.
“He didn’t even get his first pay cheque when the accident occurred,” said Marissa.
Her husband, who was on the job, was hit off his motorcycle and was badly injured. She surmised that his life was spared as a result of him wearing a helmet at the time.
“He had no broken bones but had minor haemorrhage, swelling of the brain, and was delirious.”
After a five-day stay in hospital, her husband was discharged but was unable to return to work for almost a year due to severe pain, headaches and memory issues.
With both of them out of a job, Marissa and her husband had to move in with her in-laws in another parish for the duration of his recovery. As she had to be his caregiver, she herself was unable to return to the workforce.
Her husband still experiences side effects from his injuries and had to change jobs as a result.
Janice Green, human resource professional and national secretary of the International Commission on Occupational Health for Jamaica, maintains that road crashes have a negative impact on productivity.
“Some injuries, such as broken limbs, require victims to be off from work for several weeks. Sometimes, an employer may not get a temporary replacement for the injured worker, which could be due to financial constraints. Absenteeism can result in delayed service delivery or reduced production. Furthermore, victims require time off to deal with insurance claims, motor vehicle repairs, and trauma counselling. Many victims constantly relive the crash incident, and this is a very traumatic experience that they don’t often share openly, and which can be long-lasting for the employee and sometimes affect the quality of work produced,” she explained.
A 2017 World Bank report, The High Toll of Traffic Injuries: Unacceptable and Preventable, underscores that “individuals removed from the workforce by road traffic injuries might possess job-specific human capital, and those who filled these vacancies in the workforce might not be as productive as the victims, at least in the short run”.
Andrea Gordon, assistant general manager – operations at JN General Insurance (JNGI) and road safety advocate, is optimistic that the long-awaited Road Traffic Act, 2018 will significantly reduce road fatalities when it is implemented.
“With speeding being the leading cause of crashes, the higher fines can serve as a deterrent to motorists from using roads irresponsibly. If motorists are intentional about exercising more care, a significant reduction in road crashes can be achieved.”
Breaches of the new Road Traffic Act, to take effect tomorrow (February 1), will result in fines of $24,000 for failing to obey a traffic signal; $25,000 for careless driving where a collision occurs; and $10,000 for using a hand-held electronic communication device while driving. Other fines include $12,000 for failing to stop at pedestrian crossings and $5,000 for not wearing a protective helmet.
Over the years, JNGI has embarked on several road safety initiatives, including the erection of warning signs at crash hotspots across the country that indicate where motorists are most at risk. Last July, the company hosted a road safety webinar to examine strategies to reduce road crashes.