With road fatalities for the year recorded at 68 by the end of last week, the opposition coalition APNU has called for an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the causes of the carnage and to make proposals for safer roads.
“The APNU feels that this is an atrocity,” PNCR presidential candidate David Granger said on Friday on the Facing the Nation programme on CNS TV 6. “People are fed up with the inaction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Guyana Police Force,” he added.
The call followed the most recent deaths—five persons killed as a result of an accident on Homestretch Avenue, last Monday.
The independent Commission of Inquiry, according to Granger, must insist on several changes. These are: that roads, especially newly-repaired or resurfaced ones, are correctly marked and that road signs are erected where they could be seen; that pavements, pedestrian crossings and sidewalks are clearly demarcated enabling pedestrians to move continuously from street to street without danger; that minibuses, which have become vital to public transport, are inspected rigorously for mechanical defects; that shipping containers and derelict vehicles are not parked on roadways; and that drivers of minibuses, hire cars and taxis are to qualify for a special “commercial drivers” licence, which emphasises safety and suitability for holding responsibility for the lives of passengers.
Despite efforts to reform the road laws, including the campaign by the Mothers in Black lobby, Granger said more decisive action is needed from the PPP/C administration. He cited recent statistics presented by Commissioner of Police Henry Greene, who noted that between January and the start of July, police recorded 7,660 cases of speeding; 4,220 cases of overloading in public transportation; 579 cases of driving under the influence of alcohol; and 378 cases of drivers without licences.
Granger said not enough has been done to reduce the serious offences. He also argued that most of the road accidents can be prevented by rigorous law-enforcement and proper licensing of drivers. He further noted that some drivers actually seem unafraid of prosecution by law-enforcement officers and feel free to disobey road signs and break other laws.
According to Granger, the biggest contributory factor to fatalities has perhaps been dangerous driving habits. “Some, especially drivers of minibuses, simply do not have the skill, experience or temperament to be entrusted with responsibility for human lives on public roads,” he said, while adding that many drive defective or overloaded vehicles recklessly or at unsafe speeds and display aggressive behaviour and poor road discipline.
He further noted that Guyana, with a death rate from road accidents of 21.8 per 100,000 of the population (for 2006), held the “unenviable rank of fifth place” among countries in the Americas for traffic accident-related deaths. Also, he pointed out that Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy once complained that an average of 18 road accident victims per week receive surgery at the Georgetown and New Amsterdam Public hospitals alone, while the cost of care for accident victims was estimated at one point to be over $100M per year at the Georgetown Hospital alone.