Once again family members, friends, colleagues, and an entire nation has been plunged into mourning following the tragic loss of six lives in the Bog Walk Gorge. And then the next day a young professional – graduated recently – also lost her life in a motor car crash.
To all of them on behalf of the lead agency, the NRSC, mandated by parliament to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads, we offer our heartfelt condolences.
The next question which then arises is what can be done to prevent future loss of these precious lives on our roads?
I would suggest that as a nation we need to begin to, as a matter of urgency, look very carefully at the Safe Systems approach which has been adopted by countries which have low road fatality rates. This is pursuit of an ideal which envisions that no one ought to die on the road! A way of thinking which compliments, but does not replace the ‘old’ approach of using the ‘vaccines’, promoted by the World Health Organization, viz, Passing Legislation to prevent drinking and driving, to mandate the use of safety devices, and to cut speed on our roads.
Therefore the next hurdle to cross in Jamaica’s commitment to reduce the kind of tragedy which unfolded over the weekend is to do the following things.
– build Safe Roads, so that when, not if, people make mistakes, or even engage in extremely careless behaviour, they are not ‘ punished’ by injury or worse death. The Flat bridge tragedy brings into very sharp focus the need for this approach. For even though we need to, and intend to continue and even upgrade our public education campaigns, we must never again build a road where there are no protective rails which would have prevented even ‘mad driving’ from resulting in death. There are well respected institutions which will do an assessment of a nation’s roads – iRAP – assign a rating, and recommend a plan of action for the required upgrade. All of which costs money! But we have to decide what is our priority. Access or safety!
– Import Safe Vehicles. An issue which is very ‘live ‘ in Jamaica as we consider how to reduce the alarmingly high levels of motor cycle related deaths. Currently there are no standards to be enforced for those who import motor cycle parts and then reassemble them in Jamaica. In fact, no standards exist even for motor vehicle importation as well. Again there is a well respected institution NCAP – new car assessment program – which can assist us in this respect.
– Legislate Safe Speeds, and Enforce them. Speeds limits which reduce the likelihood of serious injuries to pedestrians, motor cyclists and occupants of vehicles in the event of a crash. A potentially contentious issue as the recommended safe speeds for when pedestrians and vehicles intersect is 20-30 kph.
– Produce Safe Road Users through Enforcement, Training, Public Education and Legislation. The woefully long overdue RTA Bill, when adopted into law, will play an important part in this aspect of the Safe Systems approach eg, hands free cell phone use (a compromised position, but a starting point nontheless); a new driver training system; suspension of licenses by the ITA for those who exceed the prescribed number of demerit points. There needs to be a ramped up initiative to encourage our people to take greater personal responsibility, and equip them so to do in respect of their driving habits. An issue which has been the topic of widespread debate following the #TragedyintheGorge.
In addition to the above, a critical issue hampering safety on our roads is the impunity with which drivers break the rules of the road. Many of them are repeat offenders, and they get away with it. Too many times the end result is death or serious injury. Add to this the general indiscipline in the society and this is a recipe for disaster. To help to correct this situation the glitches in the Traffic Ticketing System must be sorted out with great urgency. Driver behaviour will not improve if offenders can collect tickets like stamps. In some cases up to 900 tickets and even 1,500.
There is also the dire need to implement electronic surveillance in this country to significantly reduce red light running, speeding and improper lane changing. A policeman cannot be on every corner and we must use technology if we are to see increased compliance with the rules of the road.
So although there is no ‘silver bullet’ that can immediately prevent any further loss of lives on our roads, there are enough projects and proposed initiatives around which, if successfully implemented, can make a difference. For many, those measures will be far too late. However, for other disasters, ‘waiting to happen’, if we as a nation can find the political will to take the hard decisions, and provide the necessary investment, who knows how many lives we can save in the future. No more escuses. The time to act is now if we are to reduce the pain and grief to families and friends and the cost to this nation!