JIS News

As of Thursday, November 15, 283 people had lost their lives in road crashes since the start of the year and the reckless use of the roadways is impacting more lives every day.
Children and young men account for the majority of road deaths and according to Minister of Transport and Works, Michael Henry “we need to put an end to the waste.” Minister Henry, who was speaking on road safety issues earlier this month, says that the country’s road network has been “converted into a death trap by reckless and careless drivers.”
The ‘Drive for Life’ public education campaign, mounted this month by the Road Safety Unit in the Ministry, aims to stem the carnage on the roads by promoting defensive driving principles, the main tenets of which are proper planning, effective observation, good anticipation and staying in control. The driving for life principle hinges on drivers being responsible, not just for themselves, but for other road users as well. It calls for drivers to be courteous, proactive, cautious, perceptive and responsive.
Director of the Road Safety Unit, Paul Clemetson, tells JIS News that “defensive driving aims to reduce the risk associated with driving by improving the driver’s ability to anticipate dangerous situations despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.”
The driver, he notes, expects the unexpected and remains alert to all eventualities. “It is very important for us to plan our journey. When we plan our journey, it prevents us from taking impulsive decisions. We must always be expecting the unexpected,” he advises.
Stating that the power to avoid road crashes “rests within our hands”, Mr. Clemetson says that 80 per cent of crashes are as a result of human error and as such, are avoidable. He notes that “drivers are failing to observe traffic lights, stop signs and they are overtaking improperly and emerging in traffic heedlessly and so the carnage is high, the pain and suffering.enormous.”
Annual global figures show that approximately 1.2 million people around the world lose their lives because of road traffic injuries. This means that more than 3,200 people die on roads daily and every minute, more than 900 people are taken to the emergency section of hospitals.
For men aged 15 to 44 years, traffic injuries are the second leading cause of premature death and ill health worldwide, behind HIV/AIDS. Even more alarming is that low and middle income countries account for 75 per cent of all deaths from traffic crashes.
Locally, road traffic crashes present a spiraling public heath challenge and is costing the country close to $2 billion to address the strain of these collisions on the health sector.
According to Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, Dr. D.M. Sawh, road traffic crashes impact nearly 13,000 people each year. When broken down, the figure stands at 35 people per day, with five people admitted to hospital each day island wide.
“The costs are tremendous,” Dr. Sawh laments. “The hospital direct costs are about a quarter of a billion Jamaican dollars. For children, that’s a million KFC meals, so almost every child in Jamaica could be eating KFC if we didn’t have road accidents,” he points out, noting that the total cost, which includes physiotherapy and psychological care, is close to $2 billion.
As it relates to the impact of crashes on children, Dr. Sawh tells JIS News that the “majority of children who die on the roads are below the age of 10 because their bodies just can’t absorb the impact.”
“It is very important for all children to wear seatbelts even if they are in the back of the car,” he advises while explaining that an impact as low as 10 miles per hour can kill a child under the age of two. “It can snap their neck right off,” he states.
According to Dr. Sawh, it is not possible for children to grasp road safety principles to the extent that they can be left alone to manage on the roads. “The truth is that most studies show that children under the age of eight cannot be taught road safety,” he informs.
“They don’t understand the concept of speed. They do not understand the concept of distance and yet we see children, lots of little children, going to school unsupervised and these are the children at risk,” he notes.
He is of the view that no child should be on the road alone and recommends that the concept of road pooling be adopted for children. Explaining the concept, which is practised by the Mona Commons community in Kingston, Dr. Sawh says, “if you have a group of children, you road pool [them where] the children are shepherded into a little flock in the middle and the adults are on the outside.”
A total of 23 children have died on the roads since the start of the year, with 16 boys and seven girls. Of the total, 48 per cent were between the ages of 10 and 14 and 39 per cent were in the five to nine age group. The statistics represent the lowest since 2004. Meanwhile, Head of the Police Traffic Department, Senior Superintendent (SSP) Elan Powell, tells JIS News based on his experience policing the roads, there is a trend with road crashes involving speeding and human error.
While lauding the ‘Drive for Life’ campaign, he says there are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed.
“We are in a society where today we see a man as a conductor or sideman and tomorrow he is the driver of a bus with 30 persons or (the driver) of a 20-tonne truck. I believe something is wrong with that,” SSP Powell argues, while questioning where such persons could have got the skills and the experience to operate at that level.
He suggests that no one should be issued with a public passenger vehicle licence as his/her first licence but should instead be “called upon to satisfy the authority that they have been driving for at least two years” before they are issued such as licence.
“Far too many of our drivers are hustlers. They take a taxi or they take a bus and they are making 20 to 30 trips per day because they have to make the money but they have no experience, so when they are caught in a situation where they have to negotiate, they don’t have the skills nor do they have the experience. That is something we have to look at,” he points out.
Addressing the level of driver training, SSP Powell says: “It is too easy to get a driver’s licence. I want us to really look at the level of skills that the people who we are putting on our roads possess. I believe the skill level needs to be significantly improved before you’re given a driver’s licence. It is too easy to get one and too many incompetent persons are on our roads and it’s causing havoc for all of us.”

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