Speed thrills and kills

On 15th October there was a horrific vehicular accident on the Corentyne involving a car and a paddy truck. Witnesses claim that the car was travelling at an extremely high rate of speed when the driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle when it struck a pothole, spun several times and then flipped over. The truck driver, approaching from the opposite direction had virtually no time to react, applied brakes and tried to evade the inevitable collision.

The result of the impact was so powerful that the tray of the truck, which at the time was filled with paddy, was separated from the chassis, and the load of paddy was scattered all over the road. The five occupants of the car, who were on their way to Number 63 beach, died at the scene. The truck driver suffered minor injuries.

The accident received major media coverage which provided the nauseating details of how the remains of the occupants of the car were found and extracted from the mangled and twisted pieces of metal that once was a vehicle whose brand and model could no longer be discerned. The accompanying photographs of the carnage and the occupants spoke more than a thousand words each, as the hearts of the readers bled for the two young boys and three adults who had lost their lives.

This atrocious accident should have been a wake-up call to all and sundry about the danger of speeding and reckless driving, instead it seems to have no effect whatsoever on the driving populace. The speedways, that’s what they appear to function as now, of the Public Roads of the East Bank of Demerara, and the East Coast of Demerara, to mention a few, are the scenes of daily spectacular high speed driving. After witnessing a few weeks of this continued recklessness, one can only consider nothing short of it a miracle that the incident on the Corentyne is not repeated a daily basis.

It is not for the lack of trying on the part of the Police to deal with this extremely dangerous growing addiction to fast and irresponsible driving by our society. Roadblocks, highway patrols and speed bumps have done little to curb this cancer. The time has come for drastic measures to be taken to deal with this burgeoning problem.

This conundrum needs to be tackled on several fronts simultaneously. The chief culprits, of course, are the minibus drivers who function as though no one else is on the road at the same time as they are driving and seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that the passengers they transport, are live persons and not non-perishable goods.

An unscientific survey taken by casual observation by visiting the various bus parks and pick-up points, reveals that the drivers of the minibuses are of the younger generation, twenty’s/thirty’s (a few did not even appear to be twenty), for the most part. Perhaps now is the time to address the age and relevant experience issue here?

No doubt that lack of maturity is a key factor for this continued recklessness and revamped standards of criteria for eligibility to be a minibus driver should be required. A minimum of ten years’ experience as a licensed driver, be at least thirty-five years of age and possess a clean driving record could be proposed as the new standard for the issuance of a new minibus driver’s licence, for starters.

How to deal with the current licence holders who do not qualify for the new standards? First of all, all minibus drivers should be required to do a biennial road test to maintain their eligibility, and be carefully monitored by ‘silent’ inspectors who would ride the buses and score the drivers on their observances of the Highway Traffic Act and the use of the roads in general.

Next, we can introduce waiting areas. Drivers, all drivers here, no exception, caught exceeding the speed limit, would be ticketed and escorted to a waiting area equipped with washroom facilities, a large compound would suffice. On the first occasion (computerized records would have to be kept and enforced of course), the driver and the vehicle would have to wait for half hour before been allowed to continue on his/her journey, the other occupants would be free to go on the impoundment of the driver. Every occasion, thereafter, the time limit would be doubled until the driver is maxed out at four hours. Time infractions incurred could be waived from speedsters’ records annually, half hour at a time. New infractions, of course, will be added to one’s individual records.

Drivers caught with excessive speeding on more than two occasions should have their licences suspended for at least one year initially, with four-time repeat offenders becoming ineligible to hold a driver’s licence. These speeding infractions must also be heavily penalized by insurance companies who should charge high premiums for these reckless drivers.

Last, but by no means least, we must continue relentlessly to underscore the danger of speeding. The prime targets of this pitch must be the next generation of drivers, the teenagers. There is a series of videos on the dangers of speeding and reckless driving produced by two Australian states, the Transport Accident Commission Victoria and the State Government of Queensland – permission to reuse them should be readily forthcoming – which are available for perusal on YouTube and should be compulsory viewing for our young and upcoming generation, in fact, all of us. A word of caution, these videos are not for the faint of heart, but they will surely change your approach to speeding and driving on the whole.

Lofty standards? Too difficult to achieve and maintain? If we don’t raise the bar, we will never get anywhere with this growing nightmare.

Several decades ago, the slogan for the annual road safety week was “Speed thrills and kills,” perhaps we can remember that slogan every time we sit behind the steering wheel of a vehicle.

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