Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Mark Ricketts | Curb carnage for 2019

Published:Sunday | January 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Last year, road fatalities jumped 24 per cent over the previous year. My wish for 2019 is that there are far fewer tears, deaths, and seriously injured persons, as a result of sharp decreases in traffic accidents.

I would also like to see courtesy increasingly overtake lawlessness. I make this New Year's wish because lawlessness is personal anarchy facilitated by the absence of guardrails.

Last year was the sixth successive year in which fatalities on the road surpassed the dreaded 300 mark. What was of grave concern was that by December 10, 2018, the fatality figure reached 351, and by yearend, more than 370 - easily overhauling the 2017 total of 302.

It is as if life means nothing. Particularly disheartening is that the four western parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, and Trelawny accounted for nearly one-third of the deaths, or 108 of the 351.

All this is lawlessness on parade; irresponsibility and carelessness run amok - an apt description for the complete indifference to the rules of the road and the carnage that is occurring. As Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen, head of the newly reconstituted public order and traffic division, said to me last week, "This is happening in spite of us prosecuting in excess of 500,000 breaches of the Road Traffic Act in 2018."

 

Foolhardy Driving Decisions

 

Our drivers are very confident behind the steering wheel or behind the handlebars of motorbikes, so they make defying death, with foolhardy driving decisions, close encounters. Sometimes the encounter turns tragic for them and innocent victims as well.

Jamaicans are never late until the appointed time has arrived. Until then, even if they are an hour away from where they should be in two minutes, there is hope yet. They will insist on making a go of it. The roads and those on it must realise they had better shoulder some responsibility in assisting them.

No wonder, as Senior Superintendent Allen notes, "The main causes of road fatalities are excessive speeding, improper overtaking, and distracted driving, e.g., using a cell phone."

Many drivers, motorcyclists in particular, are titillated by their risk disposition and brashness with which they display their skills. They feel they should be commended for making a valiant effort in not surrendering to the inevitability of being late.

It reminds me of all the craziness I have done on the roads, and now I am just grateful to be alive. My impulses and thinking then are the same conversations being heard today, with similar bragging and jocular indifference. This cavalier approach to risk-taking is uptown and downtown, among the young and the old, in the city and in the country.

The examples are everywhere; drivers going from Kingston to 'the Bay', Port Antonio to 'Ochi', Mandeville to Sav, leaving late, some high and happy, and when they arrive, they regale listeners with their heroics, their skill in condensing time, then playfully add, "Yeah, man, a me that."

The culture has to change. We have to increase manpower; data collection, access, and application; and have court-approved traffic schools in every parish.

When drivers get tickets for infractions, their insurance premiums increase, and with more infractions, their licence could be suspended.

To avoid suspension or prevent increases in insurance premiums, a driver could be directed, or could opt to, go to traffic school. He or she still has to pay the fine for the current infraction, but once the requirements of the school are met, there tends to be a stronger commitment to discipline on the roads.

A traffic school efficiently run could be a game-changer in improving civility in society and driving habits in the community.

In some states overseas, driving schools are usually run by retired policemen who worked in traffic and can provide personal accounts and images of what tragedy looks like.

You attend traffic school for a day, and doing research for this column, I sat in on some of them. They can be militaristic, sterile, hard-as-nails, as evidenced by the number of written tests that must be passed and a required revision of the road code that must be relearned. The gory details of accidents and the pain experienced by loved ones as told by the lecturer are very effective.

 

Traffic School Success

 

Traffic schools are successful because nobody wants to spend a day doing written tests and watching blood and gore, which, in hindsight, they could have been the one responsible. Drivers even have to pay to go.

Canvassing the reaction of road users to the school, everyone insisted on sainthood from there onwards. Some will still yield to temptation and be irresponsible, but the idea of the school could be a game-changer in Jamaica.

If carnage is to be reduced on our roads, manpower has to be significantly increased and properly managed. Luckily for us, we have Senior Superintendent Allen. He is tireless, personable, hands-on, no-nonsense, and has an excellent grasp of street alignments and traffic flow.

As he looks at other countries, the traffic head is convinced that those countries where there is truly law and order, the laws have teeth.

A particular emphasis of his this year is robust public education and heightened awareness for all road users, including pedestrians and motorcyclists. That's a tall order. It would be great, and so, too, if courtesy can eclipse lawlessness.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.