March 6, 2001
On Tuesday afternoon a little boy was killed on Sheriff Street. He
was one of the thousands of children who spill onto the streets of
Georgetown at the beginning and end of the school day. Some are
accompanied by a parent or adult carer. Many, for various reasons, are
not. Often these children walk to and from school along the perimeter
of roads that are brimful of cars, cyclists, minibuses and other
vehicles. They may have to cross busy thoroughfares in rush hour to
reach their destination. We have all seen them darting across the road
or, as in the case of this little boy, 'peeping out from in front of a
stationary minibus' or other obstacle. Many drivers will have
witnessed or been involved in near or actual mishaps involving the
school children on our roads. There is therefore little in Tuesday's
tragedy that will surprise us although we cannot fail to be saddened
by the outcome.
This particular accident is still under investigation and the facts will no doubt emerge in the course of time. However it already bears the familiar hallmarks of many road accidents in Guyana: the involvement of one or more minibuses, the death or maiming of someone other than the drivers and eyewitness reports of speeding. There will also no doubt be the usual ritual responses - civic groups and media houses will highlight the perennial problems of road safety in Guyana (speeding and reckless driving) and will demand explanations and redress. In the wake of other recent accidents, we have heard discussions about enforcing the wearing of seat belts, the use of speed detection devices and repeated calls for a curb to speeding. These measures will all have some effect and they should be implemented and pursued with vigour.
Pedestrians and cyclists make up a large proportion of our daily commuters and road users. Yet the current round of road repairs and the myriad proposals for further road building make little allowance for pedestrians and less for cyclists. The assumption seems to be that they will both vanish into thin air or continue to make do with the edge of the road. Pavements have become an endangered species on Guyana roadways - with obvious consequences for pedestrians. In the rainy season or if the verge is overgrown (as is often the ease), they are forced to use the road. Cyclists have always had to compete with other traffic and invariably come off the worse for wear in any direct encounter. Cycle lanes should gradually be introduced on the wider roads and highways: this would help to divert cyclists from the mainstream of the traffic and thereby reduce the chances of a collision. As things stand, it could be argued that there is virtually no provision, now or in the foreseeable future, for these two key groups.
There is, finally, a less palatable, less popular explanation for the ongoing spate of accidents and road deaths. In an interview last year, the acting Traffic Chief and Deputy Traffic Officer, Mr Fred Wilson, explained that, in part, the increase in road accidents could be explained by an 'attitudinal problem' whereby people 'drive without consideration for other persons.' We have become a nation of careless drivers. Most of us routinely break the most elementary rules of responsible driving (stopping at major roads, driving within the speed limit, waiting for the lights to change before moving off and maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front). Violation of these rules in many other countries results in the immediate withdrawal of the culprit's licence: this penalty is deemed appropriate because, statistically, it is these offences that cause the greatest harm. So, perhaps this once, instead of shrugging the whole issue of road safety off as someone else's problem or someone else's fault, we should all shoulder a little of the responsibility. We could all be more careful and more considerate drivers. Instead of expecting the police to monitor the public's car culture, we, the drivers should seek to monitor ourselves. 'Accidents occur because persons fail to observe the rules,' concluded Mr Wilson. It really is, in most cases, as simple as that.