Road rage is the term used to describe a violent incident, which results from stress caused by an accident (mainly minor) or other road incident, where a driver expresses aggressive behaviour. The driver in question might have been cut off, side-swiped, tailgated, or might just be reacting to another driver who took two seconds too long to pull off after the traffic lights turned green, drove within or below the speed limit, or changed lanes suddenly. The aggressive behaviour might amount to rude gesturing, swearing, honking, or at the extreme, physical violence or vengeful misuse of the road-rage driver’s vehicle.
Sadly, aggressive behaviour and misuse of vehicles, whether vengeful or not, have become part of the culture which now exists in Guyana. So much so, that drivers who drive by the book – stay within the speed limit and observe the five Cs are often abused and ridiculed – become the victims of road rage.
This culture has been honed to a fine art by some who provide public transport via minibuses and taxis. Monday’s horrific accident, which up to yesterday had claimed five lives, was just another statistic of the road rage drivers. It was an accident that was waiting to happen; that could have happened at any time. It is tragic that people have died, but the sad fact is that it has happened before and even as this column is being written and read, the same behaviours responsible for Monday’s crash are being displayed on the road.
Reckless speeding and drunk driving have been responsible for the majority of the road fatalities, particularly those in which there have been multiple deaths. A look back at 2009 for example, shows that in November, five persons died almost instantly when the minibus they were in smashed into a stationary truck at Mahaica; it was reported to have been speeding. In May, a speeding taxi collided with a parked trailer on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway killing four people. There have been several other multiple deaths involving speeding and driving under the influence. The single road deaths that involve these two factors are too numerous to mention.
It was reported that by the end of January this year, according to police statistics, 13 persons had been killed in accidents on the roadways and Traffic Chief Neil Semple said in February that they were mostly attributable to speeding and the continued practice of driving under the influence of alcohol.
While the statistics mostly record the loss of life, injuries sustained in crashes like these are often very horrific; some people are maimed for life by the loss of limbs or their eyesight, or are left with ugly scars from wounds. Then there is the accompanying mental trauma of survivors, even of eyewitnesses, that is often never addressed.
Random statistics reveal that in 2006 there were 139 road fatalities; in 2007 there were 116 accidents with 136 deaths, 19 of which were children; in 2008 – up to the beginning of December – there were 89 accidents with 101 deaths, three being children. Less than two weeks ago, the traffic chief said on a television programme which the Guyana Police Force uses to educate the populace on law enforcement issues, that he was alarmed at the number of road deaths. The alarming figure was not quoted, but Mr Semple promised enforcement by the traffic department, urged the reporting of indiscipline and advocated educating the public as regards safe road use; in fact, all that the force has been doing so far. That the carnage continues is a clear indication that it is not enough. There might be a campaign in the works even now, given Monday’s crash – but it will not be enough.
The police campaigns must be ongoing, since lawlessness retakes the road at the end of each one. The police can reduce the numbers of inexperienced drivers taking risks with people’s lives by simply checking their ages against the type of licence they have been issued, and where it is found to be flawed, seizing the licence, charging the driver and vehicle owner where this applies and prosecuting whomever issued the licence.
There must be stiffer penalties for certain traffic offences as being lobbied for by Women in Black and other groups; it’s time that our politicians get moving on this. The revenue authority and the police must also work together in removing vehicles which are not roadworthy from our streets; they are a danger.
Last, but most importantly, commuters must take responsibility for their lives and limbs; they should demand that drivers reduce their speed or get out of their vehicles, in addition to which they should report those who otherwise break the law – especially the imbibers. Unless there is a complete change in the aggressive way our roads are used at present, there will continue to be many more days like Monday.