There should be no argument that Guyana has long passed the stage when more deliberate action should be taken to address the unnecessary daily carnage on its roads. Despite several submissions by a host of concerned persons over the decades, the response has been a deafening silence, not only from the relevant authorities, but perhaps even more discouragingly, from responsible private sector institutions who own various types of vehicles and employ so many drivers.
It is difficult to understand the indifference to the fact that an exponential increase in the number of vehicles of all types and sizes traverse almost the identical mileage of roadways which have existed since the last century. Roadways which, to compound the problem, are generally poorly engineered, beg for a level of maintenance that is hardly visible.
It is at least instructive that the capital city of Georgetown has the worst maintained roadways of any city in the Caricom region, a condition that is compounded by poor lighting.
It is at the same time remarkable that there is much touting of a Linden to Lethem highway in the same newspapers that display the deterioration of our hinterland roads due to brazenly deliberate under-engineering. No account is taken of the deterioration of the at least 50-year-old Linden Highway. The point to be made is that the first contributor to road accidents is the poverty of road construction.
Aiding and abetting the hazard of poorly lit bad roads, is the conspicuous inadequacy of effective signage.
For one, despite scores of representations over time, an obdurate Traffic Department persists in painting easily fading STOP signs on surfaces which succumb easily to dust, dirt and flood — a feature not seen in any country. One must assume that it is intended to be tourist attraction (or rather distraction) for certainly even overseas based Guyanese would find difficult having to locate flat STOPS.
The reality is that these signs disappear even under the weight of normal heavy traffic, and except in the more prominent junctions of the city, they are quickly forgotten both by the authorities and the drivers. More importantly, they constitute a hazard since they become visible much too late. In any case the admixture of erect STOP signs and lying ones can reasonably confuse a driver unfamiliar with the particular area of traffic.
The blindness of the Traffic Department is also reflected in the palpable absence of (upright) No Entry signs along such heavily trafficked roads as Sheriff Street and Vlissingen Road, to cite glaring examples.
It would be difficult to locate signs like a) SLOW b) No Left/Right Turn c) GIVE WAY d) Do Not Overtake. Unlike say, Barbados and Jamaica, there are no signs which speak to either driver or pedestrian in a manner that encourages safety and/or consciousness of risk.
There was a time when the installation of the NO PARKING sign (along with other signage) was the prerogative of the Traffic Department. However, the function seems to have become increasingly privatised to a level of prevalency that it is assumed that all such signs are legal, and therefore prosecution can be made by the police, without any questioning of its legality by the citizen involved. Chances are neither the transgressor nor prosecutor would have been acquainted with the traffic regulations.
Across the city (and elsewhere) business premises of various types are being erected. Yet the evidence suggests minimal consideration for parking facilities for the very clients they seek to attract. The more customers a business is likely to attract, the more certain it is that taxis will claim prior squatter’s rights to whatever parking space coincidentally becomes available, thus denying access to legitimate customers.
In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago for instance, since back in the 1990s, restaurants, supermarkets, amongst others, are statutorily required to include in their construction plans, provision for customer parking. The practice of banks providing customer parking space has also been well established. All this in addition to strategically located paid for parking lots — a few of them being multi-storied, as can be seen in Bridgetown, Barbados.
There is no question that it is well past time when urgent attention needs to be given to designing a well thoughtout plan for parking lots across the city, with the particular view of first diversifying space for commuting minibuses between the city and the respective rural bus routes, with the aim, amongst others, of removing the unsightly congestion around Parliament Building. (Note also that the amount of gasoline stored in the numerous buses constitutes a potential fire hazard.)
In any case Stabroek Square should be part of any restoration and reconstruction plan for the capital city, a strategy for which should be regarded as a priority.
It is the custom for the police to report quite blandly that an accident was due to speeding. However, scarcely does one hear reports of follow-up forensic investigation into other possible contributory causes unlike, for example, those conducted for decades now by the T&T Traffic Police. It is possible that over and above the speed factor, poor road engineering, bad or no lighting may have been contributory.
It is not enough to publish accident statistics, without careful analysis of the causes which could indicate possible solutions, and the remedial measures to be taken. It is simply not enough to repeat on the media ‘drive safely’, when in fact so little is attempted to make the roads safe. For example, speed limits signage is conspicuous by its absence, and virtually inconspicuous where present. There are simply not enough signs to impact on the consciousness of drivers.
In this regard, public transport drivers constitute a category of great concern. No account seems to be taken of the glaring differentials in the sizes and types of vehicles so that large container type vehicles hurtle alongside minibuses at the same speed.
Clearly there is need for speed signs to make explicit distinction between the limits to be observed by various types of motor transport. It is scary to see a bulk sugar lorry (no longer GuySuCo’s) denying a reckless taxi driver’s attempt to overtake, and on the left-hand side.
The issuing of licences is perhaps the most palpable fault-line in the traffic accident mode. The accessing of a driver’s licence has become a well-known corrupt practice, with availability to persons who have not even started to learn to drive, much more trained to do so. The price of a licence is bartered.
This is one corrupt system which should be vigorously stamped out, if only to save lives, too many of whom are exposed to one-handed taxi drivers, preoccupied as they regularly are on their cell phones.
Whatever qualification is needed to be eligible for a minibus driver’s licence is usually ignored. Incidentally, consideration should be given to drivers and conductors being properly identified for both official and customer consumption. The name of the owner, if different, should also be required to be clearly displayed in the vehicle.
It is so obvious that no one has seen it for the past several decades, that is of official vehicles carrying private licence plates, even though the logic is displayed in prefixing such plates in order to identify the category of the vehicle.
In Jamaica, all government-owned vehicles are readily identified by a red licence plate. In Guyana vehicles used by the Defence Force are appropriately identified, while contrastingly identifiable Police Force vehicles carry ‘private’ licence plates. One reason for attending to this conundrum is that over recent decades there was massive abuse of official vehicles for personal, domestic and even commercial purposes, reflecting substantially needless expenditure in the costs of maintenance, repairs and replacement.
Hopefully the case has been made for giving consideration to the design and implementation of a massive attitudinal change in both the control and use of the roadway. The exercise will require expert inputs.
Traffic Management leaders would need to be sent overseas for relevant exposure. Also, the so-called Road Safety Council must be reconstructed to be more pro-active, being one amongst other institutions that should be required to contribute to a comprehensive road transport management strategy.