Guyana has the worst road fatality ranking of all Anglophone Caribbean countries, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has said.
According to the APNU, Guyana, at 27.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is the worst ranking country by a wide margin. Rates for other countries are: the Bahamas with 13.7; Barbados, 7.3; Belize, 16.4; Jamaica, 11.6 and Trinidad and Tobago, 16.7, the coalition added.
APNU also stated 1,563 persons died in traffic accidents from 2002-2012, and over 100 have already been killed in 2013 – a rough average of nearly a dozen deaths every month.
It is for these reasons, APNU member George Norton said, that the United States Government issued an advisory to its citizens on Guyana’s road situation.
Prompted by the death of the National Library’s Chief Librarian Gillian Thompson in a car crash on Christmas Eve, the coalition convened a press briefing yesterday during which it released the aforementioned statistics, berated existing conditions, and called for improvements.
Thompson was travelling along North Road in a company minibus when a speeding car allegedly smashed into her vehicle. She was killed instantly. Yesterday, APNU Leader David Granger, reading the coalition’s statement, reminded the Guyana Police Force that other prominent members of society, such as former Police Commissioner Henry Greene, Constable Shaquille Anderson, and Assistant Commissioner Derrick Josiah, all died in traffic accidents. Green died last year while Anderson and Josiah died this year.
Anderson and Josiah died in November; the same month designated National Road Safety Month.
“Better must be done,” the coalition said, and argued that there are five steps which must be taken to achieve success in this regard.
First, Granger said, roads which run through heavily populated areas need to be fitted with sidewalks, while encumbrances, including vendors and refuse, need to be kept off. He also called for better lighting on these roadways and resurfacing of main roadways, including the East and West Berbice, East and West Demerara and Linden-Soesdyke – which have deteriorated.
Second, motorists who pose a risk to human life and well-being as a result of driving while intoxicated, distracted, or those who simply lack the skill, should have their licences disqualified.
Third, the authorities should ensure that all newly-imported vehicles are adequately inspected to make sure that they carry the required safety features. Fourth, the coalition said, there is need for “the introduction of improved emergency care and hospital services for victims of accidents by establishing a national ambulance service and training corps of first responder emergency assistants.”
Fifth, APNU said, traffic laws which already exist must be adequately enforced. These laws includes ensuring that vehicles carry the legal complement of cargo and/or passengers, banning distracting music and movies, and banning the sale of intoxicating beverages near public transportation terminals. Granger is convinced that enforcement of such laws will improve road user behaviour, and lead to a reduction in the number of traffic-related fatalities and injuries which currently plague the country.
But, lax enforcement of laws has long been a thorn in the side of Guyana’s police force, and many other institutions.
Granger alluded to Operation Safeway and Operation Road Order – both initiatives of the government which were aimed at improving conditions on the roadways – which fizzled out after hundreds of petty offenders were arrested. Meanwhile, he said, the spiraling toll of fatalities continued unabated.
The police force’s ability to enforce the law is also handicapped by the high level of bribe-taking which occurs among traffic ranks. But, former police commissioner Winston Felix said the ranks are not always to blame entirely. He said that many of them function in a system which makes accepting a bribe seem necessary. Their salaries, for instance, Felix lamented, leaves much to be desired, while the conditions under which they are required to work sometimes are deplorable. As a result, Felix said, many officers feel the need to take bribes to get by.
He also posited that some members of the Guyanese populace are to blame as they are the ones who pay the bribes. As opposed to obeying the law and keeping their money, Felix argued, some citizens prefer to break the law and pay a bribe, thereby perverting the system, and further diminishing the ability of the force to carry its mandate.
Nevertheless, he said, police ranks need to work towards prosecuting offenders. Doing this will create a deterrent and hopefully prevent others from breaking the law.