After criticism that it has contributed to deaths by neglecting road safety, the Home Ministry has said that the police force has managed to reduce the road death rate, which is lower than the average in both low-income and middle-income countries.
“Guyana’s efforts show commendable response,” the ministry yesterday said in a statement, issued in response to strong criticism by APNU presidential candidate David Granger, who accused the PPP/C of incompetence in ensuring road safety, saying that recent fatalities were a “shocking reminder” of how dangerous the roadways have become.
He also charged that the Ministry of Home Affairs could prevent most road accidents if it implemented correct policing, rigorous law-enforcement, efficient road engineering and proper licensing of vehicle drivers.
According to the ministry, a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report revealed that the traffic death rate for low-income countries is 21.5 per 100,000 persons, and in middle-income countries 19.5 per 100,000 persons. In comparison, it said the traffic death rates in Guyana in 2009 and 2010 were 15.6 per 100 000 and 15.3 per 100 000, respectively.
Although the ministry said government is “deeply concerned about the wanton loss of lives on the road way,” it noted that there is evidence of its “unswerving determination” to implement a comprehensive programme to deal with the situation.
Granger’s contention about a lack of enforcement is sad, the ministry said. It noted that in October 2007, the Guyana Police Force launched ‘Operation Safeway,’ a zero-tolerance programme aimed at strengthening enforcement of traffic regulations. An evaluation of the programme indicates that it has been able to reduce road accidents by 17.4 per cent to date. Also, for the year the Traffic Department has made a total of 35,096 cases comprising 7,660 for speeding, 939 for the breach of condition of road service licences, 579 for driving under the influence of alcohol, 377 for the use of a cellular phone while driving and 272 for the breach of traffic lights.
The ministry said it was also aware that road safety entails proper road infrastructure, markings and signage and in this regard huge sums have been spent in these areas as part of its comprehensive strategy. In 2009, it said, over $8.7 billion was allocated to improve roads and bridges and a further $1.7 billion has been used to rehabilitate and maintain urban, rural and hinterland roads countrywide. In addition, an $87M project has been implemented for the improvements of pavements and sidewalks, widening roads, bridges and footbridges.
According to the ministry, resources have also been used to improve traffic lights, install street lights and mark bus stops in the city and works are currently ongoing to clear all encumbrances from the roadways and verges. Over 50 such encumbrances have been removed for the year already.
The implementation of the stray catchers programme, it further said, is also aimed at removing traffic hazards. To date, 724 animals have been impounded. The police have also been proactive in using traffic education programmes and participating in media talks and talks at schools, in order to reduce road deaths.
Along with these measures, the ministry said government has strengthened the legislative framework for road use and for responding to road accidents. Among the legislation in place, it said, are laws prohibiting the playing of music in minibuses or hire cars, prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile telephones while driving, and making provision for the use of breathalysers and taking blood samples.
The ministry also noted the claim in a US Report that driving in Guyana is hazardous and that the country’s death rate is 70 per cent higher than in the United States. The 2008 WHO global Status Report on Road Safety states that the traffic death rate in the US is 13.9 per 100 000 population. In 2008, Guyana’s rate was 15.0 per 100 000 population. “Percentage wise, Guyana’s rate was only 7 per cent higher than the US rate; a good performance for a country at this stage of development,” the ministry said. Regarding non fatal road traffic injuries, the US rate was 13.1 per 1000 registered vehicles while Guyana’s was 10.6 per 1000 registered, 24% lower than the US rate, it added.