A variety of groups met at the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday and demanded tougher action to halt the road carnage including stiffer penalties for bus drivers and lower tariffs for new tyres.
In an attempt to change what they described as the current minibus culture of speed, inebriated drivers, boom boxes and ‘mag rims’, various groups met with Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee and acting Commissioner of Police Henry Greene to discuss the way forward.
Groups such as the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) and the Minibus Association of Guyana called for minibuses to be banned and for owners and drivers to face serious charges such as manslaughter but the general consensus was for draconian measures that will effect the necessary change and for law enforcement efforts to be stepped up and sustained.
Among some of the revelations made at the meeting held at the ministry’s Brickdam office were that many minibus drivers are modifying their exhaust and fuel injection systems and changing their engines to extract maximum speed from the vehicles. There were also reports that many minibuses are equipped with used tyres which pose serious risk to passengers’ safety. Calls were made for government to ban the importation of used tyres and to lower the tariffs on new ones so that more persons would be able to afford new tyres thereby reducing the risk of accidents. “There is a very visible disregard for human life by many of these drivers using the roads, we see it every day and when you confront them about it, they say it’s a hustle. They are hustling with people’s lives and we have to ensure that this stops,” Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn said.
Benn also said the sale of alcoholic beverages near many minibus parks is a contributory factor to the irresponsible behaviour displayed on the roads and that this must be prohibited. He noted too that operators can obtain other illicit substances at bus parks. Benn said his ministry had started to address this issue but its efforts were stymied. The minister also pointed out that congestion on the roadways has become a serious problem.
In his address Greene said road safety is everyone’s business. He said the failure of the public to get involved has resulted in the current culture since the words ‘slow down’ could have tremendous impact if passengers start to use them. He said Guyanese need to be proactive in dealing with the situation and start demanding a better service from drivers. Greene said when the police pressure drivers they rarely get support from the public and this time they hope the public speaks out and supports their campaigns. Greene said traffic enforcement starts with the police but it does not end with them.
The acting commissioner also said the magistracy has to play a greater role by demonstrating to drivers who are placed before the courts that their actions will not be tolerated. He said tougher fines and even suspension of licences are needed to drive home the point.
Dorothy Fraser, of the Guyana Red Cross Society, also voiced concern about the increasing number of road accidents. She said the Red Cross will start training a batch of minibus drivers in First Aid next month. Fraser said the organization believes that a number of areas including resources allocated to traffic enforcement and road safety and increasing traffic education are necessary in bringing about the desired change. She said the Red Cross will now address the issue of road accidents more seriously and begin with awareness within the organization. Staff will be targeted for this exercise and then they will take the programme into communities.
The NRSC’s Hilbert Archer pointed out that many good proposals have been on the table for some time now and the same problems continue. He said government needs to introduce more radar guns, have regular patrols on the roads and enact the necessary laws.
Archer also said that offending drivers need to face tougher penalties. He said many police officers own buses used for public transportation that break the law but nothing is done in those instances. This, he said, must change since law enforcement must not favour anyone.