How must the administration respond to the recent spate of road deaths at Supply Village on the East Bank Demerara, at Bel Air Village on the East Coast Demerara and at Amelia’s Ward in Linden?
Minister of Home Affairs Mr Clement Rohee has all the evidence he needs about how deadly the roads are. Last November, it was he who announced that Guyana’s road death rate was “among the highest in the world.” Confirmation came last weekend by which time the number of road deaths for this year had soared to 165 or an average of about four persons being killed on the roads every week.
Mr Rohee must surely have come to the conclusion that he and the Ministry of Home Affairs have neither the capacity nor competence to solve this serious road safety problem. Little action, if any, has been taken to re-energize the ministry, re-engineer the national road safety plan or reorganise the police force traffic department to prevent a recurrence in the short-term and to ensure safer roads in the long-term.
It was the Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Mr Robeson Benn who went beyond the hand-wringing and finger-pointing to make some of the most serious and sensible suggestions for the improvement of road traffic management. Mr Benn compared the dangerous lawlessness which now prevails on the roadways, particularly among feral minibus drivers, to the times when unruly river-boat operators used to wreak havoc on the waterways.
To curb the misconduct of the river-boat operators, the maritime administration department of the Ministry of Transport and Hydraulics effectively imposed a series of strict safety and security measures.
These included control over the issuance of licences; enforcement of the use of safety gear; regulation of operators’ hours of work; conduct of regular inspections of vessels; and the introduction of a points system for rating operators. As a result, there have been fewer reports of disorderliness and dangerous behaviour on the rivers.
Mr Benn has also been paying attention to road safety under the Road Safety Engineering Program-me. His ministry had been making road signs and markings clearer, defining pedestrian crossings and side-walks, installing reflectorised spikes and street lights in selected areas, and widening busy road junctions. Much more needs to be done, however.
Responses to excessive speeding on the roadways should also include more frequent day and night highway patrols in high-risk zones; enforcing lower urban speed limits wherever public roads run through populous rural communities; ensuring that minibuses and other commercial vehicles depart from, and arrive at, terminals with no more than the lawful complement of passengers; banning distracting music and movies from minibuses and prohibiting the sale of intoxicating beverages in or near to public transportation terminals. Drivers should occasionally be tested for the consumption of alcohol or narcotics which could impair their attentiveness and ability to drive on public roadways.
In addition, there must be clearly designated bus stops, routes and parks at safe distances from corners and crossings. Load-carrying and other commercial vehicles must be required to display large reflector triangles to indicate distress when they stop or park unexpectedly.
Above all, the warrior mentality and aggressive proclivity of some of the drivers must be tamed by extraordinarily strict preventive or punitive action. As a start, holders of legitimate drivers’ licences should be registered on a computerised database to obviate counterfeiting; qualifying criteria for commercial licences should include not only driving skill but also experience, performance and criminal record; and severe restrictions should be placed on persons found guilty of serious offences such as causing death by dangerous driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and other forms of reckless conduct.
It is important, also, that corrupt magistrates, policemen and licence revenue officers, once discovered, be disciplined and removed from positions connected with the life-and-death business of road transport.
It is obvious that their condonation, connivance and corruption have been contributory factors to the carnage by unleashing, unwittingly or not, unqualified drivers and uncertified vehicles on the unsuspecting public.
Is it not time that travellers by road, like those who travel by air and water, be protected from further slaughter? Is it not time for responsibility for road transportation to be transferred from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Transportation and Hydraulics?