July 11, 2000
Three recent accidents which claimed the lives of 16 people have brutally driven home how deadly speeding on our roadways can be. On June 15, in a rather unusual accident, two motor bikes collided and four people subsequently died including a homeless man. On July 2, four persons died when a bus transporting Stain Masters employees collided with a wallaba post at Coverden while eight were killed on the Linden Highway on July 3.
The common denominator in all of these was the breakneck speed at which the vehicles were travelling. The drivers were not in a position to take safe evasive action because of the extreme speeds in play.
No doubt the rapid-fire fatalities will give rise to a lot of sermonising on the lawless use of the roads, promises of stern action and lightning campaigns by the police that are as fleeting as they are effective. But something must be done about the carnage on the roads that is continually robbing the economy of productive, working age people and young Guyanese.
There must be a start somewhere even though this abuse of the roads and flagrant disregard of traffic laws is a deep-rooted problem with no overnight solution.
A start can be made with the problem of speeding. This scourge on the main highways is particularly a problem on the East Coast and Soesdyke/Linden where mini-buses confuse themselves with bullet trains. A combination of methods is required to make a dent here. President Jagdeo's suggestion on the use of speed restraints has aroused interest and while a drastic measure it is one that should not be ruled out. Mini-bus drivers in particular have shown great immunity towards any course of treatment to reduce their susceptibility to speed. Ostensibly speed restraints can be applied on all transports engaged in public transportation together with heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and tractor trailers which are notorious speedsters. Diminished speed may not reduce the number of accidents or incidents of careless driving but these are likely to be less deadly.
Speed restraints in of themselves will not be sufficient to achieve the objective. This campaign must be underpinned by a dedicated and relentless effort by the police traffic department to clamp down on the carefree use of the road.
Police outposts must be stationed at regular intervals along the main highways across the country to recapture ground lost to the lawlessness. These traffic cops must do real work. They should be equipped with radar guns, be on the lookout for reckless driving, overloaded buses and be mobile so as to enforce order. Their sole intent must not be to snare a `raise' or a `food' but to maintain order in these chaotic circumstances on the road.
In the incident earlier this year where 12 people died while travelling back to Georgetown from Mashramani celebrations in New Amsterdam, a bus crammed with 28 made its way from New Amsterdam to Mon Repos without its driver being charged at any of the many police stations or outpost between the points. That single fatal journey expressed in so many ways the abject failure of the police traffic department.
Particularly on weekends, the police force should provide outrider escorts especially at the peak traffic hours to ensure the orderly procession into the city and other parts of the country.
Another recommended step is the gradual re-licensing of drivers of public transportation vehicles, particularly mini-buses which have been the culprits in many of the deadly accidents over the years. These drivers must be able to prove that they have been driving for at least five years, have a good safety record and fully understand the seriousness of their obligation in transporting passengers.
These steps if taken would at least recognise the seriousness of the situation on the roads and begin to do something about the number of fatalities.
But there are many other issues which must be tackled. The whole culture of respect for traffic laws has to be cultivated again. The public must begin to exercise its preference for safer transportation and shun those who flout the laws. Regulation of the mini-bus industry is an issue that should also be taken up by the government in conjunction with the operators. Legislative changes instituting stiffer penalties for causing traffic deaths, extirpating corruption from the licensing system, making the use of seatbelts compulsory and the expansion of the road network to relieve congestion are other longer-term considerations.
Speed kills and a start can at least be made on that front.
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