The very fact that so many die needlessly on the roads, and hundreds are seriously injured every year is tantamount to a national scandal. The carnage brings in its wake heartbreak and suffering to far too many individuals and families, especially the young.
As a teacher of English, I have some difficulty in coming to grips with the term road ‘accident.’ An accident is defined as an event without apparent cause, or an occurrence of things by chance. With more than a hundred road deaths each year, the definition of accident certainly does not apply and if it does, then it is only to a small percentage. We all have a moral responsibility to seriously address this matter, according it the utmost priority, while for its part the government must show leadership.
In November 2015 at the official launching of Road Safety Month at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, President Granger in his feature address to students and other stakeholders stated that the time had arrived for order and sanity to be brought to the roadways of Guyana. He also mentioned Guyana’s commitment to achieving by 2020, UN Sustainable Development Goal No 3, which aimed at reducing fatalities and injuries from road accidents by one half. Giving further impetus to the message, in his remarks to the forum, Vincent Alexander, Advisor to the Minister of Education assured all present that the ministry would be doing its best to ensure that speed bumps were placed in the vicinity of schools in Georgetown in the initial phase, while the same will be done across the country in the medium term. Has this been done, or is it just another example of rhetoric, telling the public what they want to hear at the specific moment in time.
The causal factors for the toll of fatalities have been the same for the past eight to ten years, from the tragedy at Amelia’s Ward, to the horrific head-on collision in 2010 between a minibus and a truck along the Susannah, No 19 Village Public Road, Corentyne that left 12 persons dead, including a two-month-old, to the one on Homestretch Avenue in 2011, just to name a few. Rural roads run through heavily populated villages, which are often poorly lit or totally unlit at night. In addition, vying for the limited navigable space available are farm animals, stray dogs, and parked and broken-down vehicles, among others.
The reckless driving habits of some drivers has been the biggest contributory factor to the fatalities, as well as the inexperience and temperament of drivers of commercial vehicles and minibuses. Simply put they should not be entrusted with human lives on public roads. Seemingly, the government is also out of step with the grand march of things, especially the increasing rate that new vehicles are being added to the roads. As the President said in 2015, the time had come to return order and sanity to the roads, it is evident that the time came, went and carried with it many more lives.
Any change is going to start from the top and trickle down from the top, meandering its way through local village authorities and finally ending on the streets where it all started. I am calling on President Granger to clearly outline to the populace his existing and future plans, so that all can become aware of the extent of his involvement (especially his priorities) in the process towards the rectification of this national scandal. Investigations have shown that fatalities on rural roadways are attributable to rampant speeding both day and night, drunken driving and too few policemen being deployed. With the recent graduation on July 23, 2016 of 200 police recruits from the Felix Austin Police Academy, the problem of speeding, etc, is as good as solved. Usher in the Minister of Public Security, who is called upon to display a greater sense of responsibility with respect to road safety. What stringent measures have been put in place? What if any measures are left to be instituted? Has the time arrived for Guyana to start considering the installation of mandatory reflective and overhead gantry signs such as are being used in developed countries?
There is a need for a major nationwide publicity campaign to inform the public that the actual speed limit on any minor road is the maximum safe speed that a vehicle can travel on that road. There should be lower speed limits set for minor roads, and the government can both invest as well as solicit assistance from the USA Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (under their 2009 pledge to work with Caribbean governments to strengthen public safety) for the purchase of speed-reader boards, driver feedback signs and ‘Your Speed’ signs. All speed-reader boards alert drivers to their actual speed as they pass by. Some of these reader boards also flash warnings such as ‘Slow Down’ when speeds reach a pre-set limit. Conducted studies done on driver feedback signs have indicated that they are highly effective in slowing traffic. Drivers who commit road traffic offences should be required to undertake, at their own expense, special remedial safe-driving awareness lessons.
Trucks and other heavy duty equipment should have a visible reflector sign indicating that they are carrying heavy loads, and should travel with their flashers on, especially at night. On the roadway they should only park in areas designated as rest stops, and not just on the side of the road or around a bend with lights off.
New vehicles operating in Guyana should have an ABS (air bag system) which has been credited with saving many a life. This measure comes hand-in-hand with mandatory car governors or rev limiters that prevent speedometers from reading above 90 mph. There should be clear road markings, centre lines, edge lines and stop lines. Junctions should be identified at night by the use of reflective green delineator posts.
School zones should be clearly identified with the appropriate signs, and should have speed humps around their perimeters.
In 2012 the Guyana National Road Safety Council in an effort to make the roadways safe, pointed out the 5 C’s that were essential if a person wanted to avoid accidents and get from point A to B safely. On an ironical note in 2011 PNCR presidential candidate, Brigadier (rtd) David Granger, called on the then administration to implement correct policing, rigorous law-enforcement, efficient road engineering and proper licensing of vehicle drivers. He added that the death toll figures were also an indication of the incompetence of the PPP/C administration. The President said that the Ministry of Home Affairs could have prevented most road accidents if stringent measures had been put in place. President Granger also referred to a statement by the then Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy wherein he stated that road accidents were the seventh leading cause of all deaths. According to the President, then Minister Ramsammy pointed out that the real tragedy was that not a single road death should occur since it is something that is preventable.
The more things change the more they remain the same ‒ same car, same road, same passengers, and only a different captain at the helm. The rhetoric must cease, and the President is now called upon to act.
It is my fervent wish that drivers will do the nation a good deed by always driving at the right speed.