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The Ministry of Transport and Works is embarking on a programme to streamline the entire driver education process and the granting of driver’s licences.
The programme will establish standards for the certification of driving schools and instructors, as well as standardize and raise the knowledge and skill level to be attained by learner drivers.
Already, the Ministry is in the final stages of preparing manuals that will incorporate defensive driving principles in learner driver education and is working to finalize an instructor’s handbook, a learner-driver instructional handbook, and a comprehensive national road code.
Senior Public Relations Officer in the Ministry, Leo McEwan, speaking at the launch of the ‘Drive for Life’ defensive driving campaign at the Hilton Kingston hotel on Tuesday (Nov. 6), said that the move comes against the background that 80 per cent of road crashes, which occur in the island, are caused by human error.
Citing statistics of traffic collisions that occurred in 2006, he said that 4 per cent resulted from excessive speed, 4 per cent from disobeying stop signs and traffic lights, 4 per cent from improper overtaking, 5 per cent from turning without due care, 2 per cent from improper change of lane, and 14 per cent from following too closely behind another vehicle.He noted further that since the start of the year, 278 road fatalities have occurred, an increase of 14 per cent over the same period in 2006.
Stating that drivers can reverse the trend, he reasoned that “if every driver decides to conform to safe and lawful driving practices, we would achieve an 80 per cent reduction in road deaths”.
Mr. McEwan, who was speaking on behalf of the Minister of Transport and Works, Michael Henry, pointed out that with the new guidelines “learner drivers will have to demonstrate knowledge of the defensive driving principles before they can be taken to the Island Traffic Authority for examination and certification”.
“The principles of defensive driving will be incorporated in learner driver education to instill an awareness and importance of being alert, aware, cautious, proactive discerning, perceptive, courteous and risk averse,” Mr. McEwan added.
According to Mr. McEwan, the Inter-America and Caribbean region has the highest prevalence of road fatality when compared with other regions worldwide, which translates to 26.1 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
He noted that while Jamaica’s death rate is 13.88 per 100,000 inhabitants, which places it within the group of medium-risk countries, “an increase in road deaths by 14 per cent in 2006 and the 278 fatalities since the start of the year is definitely unacceptable,” noting that the ‘Drive for Life’ campaign is part of the Ministry’s effort to put an end to the waste of life and resources that result from road deaths and injuries.
The Defensive Driving Media and Public Education campaign will take the form of defensive driving workshops, which will be conducted across the island along with a comprehensive print and electronic media campaign.
“We hope to do six presentations, so following the first one today, we’ll be going to Old Harbour in St. Catherine, then we’ll be in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, and Savlamar,” said Information Officer in the Road Safety Unit, Janett Peters.
The presentations will focus on the rudiments of defensive driving. “In this instance, we hope to reach a larger portion of the general population, and so while we’ve targeted organizations with large fleets of drivers and taxi organisations, the invitation to these presentations will be open to all,” Miss Peters added.
The campaign will run until the end of February 2008, after which the impact of the programme will be assessed for change in attitudes and behaviour among drivers. “Then the results of that will guide us as to where we go from here,” she noted.