This year on May 13, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety, and we had our local launch with the usual speeches and blabbering about what government is doing, but we never heard about what they are not doing, which are the things usually required to ensure success in programmes and policies. Guyanese need to know that Guyana has one of the highest road fatality rates in this part of the world and this seems to be increasing every year. With the increase in vehicles there needs to be an increase in the number of traffic officers who are not just driving around in $4million dollar vehicles, but conduct regular checks and establish checkpoints on a daily basis at peak hours. According to a 2007 WHO report on Guyana, the enforcement rate for the speed limit is 4 out of 10, and it also states that formal audits are required for major new road construction projects.
The Minister fails to finger the ranks of the police force who are selling drivers‘ licences, moreso to persons who have not participated in the driver‘s practical test. There has been a failure to acknowledge this weakness in this corrupt system where there seems to be no intention to change the way licences are issued.
Officials who travel in fancy vehicles with chauffeurs fail to acknowledge the deplorable state of our roads which are patched ever so often, and more recently potholes the size of a regular car tyre have been opening up all around the city. There are those on the UG road, one in the middle of the road over the bridge, and two on the left side of the road when heading to the seawall. On a narrow strip of road like this, if at any time two vehicles are passing each other and pedestrians are walking on both sides, a driver who is conscious of the cost of tyres might swerve to avoid a hole and in the process hit a pedestrian. This is just one example of how the entire system including contractors is to be blamed and should be held accountable. Just recently I bought a car and was on my way to Parika, a place I don’t frequent, and was unaware that the stretch in the vicinity of Puran Brothers disposal is full of potholes, and so fell in a deep hole that damaged my car rim as well as the brand new tyres I had just bought. Road safety is not about just having a bunch of volunteers to advocate for road safety as the President dreams about; it‘s about fixing all the systems including ensuring the roads are built according to specifications, and that drivers pass through the system and acquire their licences the legal way.
I would like to suggest that the issuance of drivers‘ licences be removed from the purview of the police and shifted to the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Transport who in issuing licences can check on the ability, eyesight, etc, of a person before they are allowed to drive. In addition they should issue plastic electronically-made drivers‘ licences similar to the national ID cards. More than this, the Ministry of Transport needs to continuously carry out roadworks to fill the potholes on major roads like UG road to ensure that they do not remain for prolonged periods. These are not only dangerous to drivers but also cost the average person money for maintenance.
I do hope that with the observance of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety a national dialogue can take place on improving and reviewing existing traffic laws, as I am of the opinion that the penalties that exist are too low.