Road tragedy is everyone's concern To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
January 17, 2002

I was motivated to write this article following the tragedy reported in the Guyana Chronicle of January 13, very appropriately headed "Spinning Terror of the Highway".

I mourn and weep with the parents and families of those young people - the wealth of our nation and I am obliged to ask "why"?

Why such carnage on our roads? This latest destruction and death follows similar accidents on the East Coast Public Road, Soesdyke/Linden Highway and elsewhere.

These accidents are a tragedy for all involved and are extremely costly for the nation as a whole - loss of resources, vehicles, machines, money and men - people. We witness a loss of working hours, school hours, waste of hospital time, doctors, nurses and resources, loss of productivity for victims and families and loss of potential. Could any or all of those youngsters have been a future President, Doctor, Economist - what? But I come back to the question - why?

If we are to be truthful, we are the architects of our own tragedies. We are an undisciplined and unruly people and our vehicles - cars, mini buses, trucks, motor cycles and what have you, are an extension of ourselves.

They are the toys, deadly toys, weapons of our tragedy and in that lies the answer to why? Here I draw on my training and experience as a former Police Officer and particularly, Traffic Chief, as the holder of the position was called and I was schooled under the likes of Fred Peterkin, who brought professionalism to that responsibility.

Traditionally, we had addressed all issues relating to traffic under what we called the three Es - they being Engineering, Education and Enforcement.

I could go through each at great depth to give you the, CER that is, Cause, Effect and Remedy or Recommendation. Suffice to say at this time, that in Engineering, we have not created new roads, or provided the engineering to solve the issues of safety and the growth of vehicles on our roads and either the problem of miles of road per fatal accident, or miles of travel per fatal accident.

We most likely have the highest per capita death rate in the World. What we have done is improved our road surfaces, sorted or cut out turns and bad angles such as the Enmore and Mahaica by passes - great for speed and shortening the journey to Berbice, without improving on safety. Where are the safety features?

The railway embankment road is another such feature, and that too is fraught with danger featuring poor engineering and poor concept. It is a road serving as a highway and is being treated as such. This is now featuring ribbon development - example bridges are being constructed to access the road, thus reducing it from a limited access road to a normal road.

I would be happy to elaborate on our problems in Engineering - e.g the use of round a-bout e.g. at the Irving, Vlissengen and Kitty Public Roads, Carifesta Avenue, rather than the very complex, dangerous and difficult intersection, which was constructed no so long ago.

On education, we have done even worse. The drivers of our hire cars and mini buses have shown us how truly reckless and undisciplined we have grown with little care for life and limb. If we wish to see how bad it is without experiencing an accident just visit Avenue of the Republic and Croal Street and see the disorder and mad scramble for passengers, who are manhandled, have their baggage snatched from them and they are being hustled, harassed and hassled all for that passenger and the `almighty buck'.

That hustle, hassle, harassment is transferred to the road. The same mentality applies to the way we drive to get from point to "A" to point "B". It is that mentality that has to be addressed through Education. That starts from the Home, is supported in the School and the Church or Mosque, or Temple and is reinforced by our society.

If this carnage is not stopped, we will pay the price, and we are. We have to embrace education at all levels. We must have better and more qualitative testing and re-testing or examination of our drivers.

We should consider removing the testing of drivers from the Police, and making the educational and other tests more stringent and demanding. In addition, there must be additional responsibilities for those who are in charge of vehicles carrying passengers - taxis, mini buses and buses. Higher levels of education and testing must apply. Driver education must be an elective course in our high schools and Traffic Education, subject in all schools.

We now turn to enforcement, when all else fails, order in our society falls on our Police. If our reckless, dangerous and careless drivers feel that the risk of getting caught and being punished are negligible, they will continue to do so with impunity. Unfortunately, the police have not been up to the task and seem unable to control the situation.

Their performance has not been well focused, or targeted and lacks consistency and dedicated action on moving violations, which should be the core of the problem. In addition, they need the support of the Magistracy to deal with cases effectively and in a timely manner. Long and unnecessary postponements are counter productive. All cases should be completed within a month, or at the most, two months. Punishment should be swift and there should be little time for payment where a fine is imposed.

In that regard, I was pleased to be in Mr. Yaw's court to hear a fine of $10,000 imposed on a Mini bus driver to be paid immediately. Further, we need to computerise and improve the traffic ticket system, so that the fines imposed and their enforcement are more meaningful. Magistrates should be encouraged to support it by not allowing frivolous recourse to the Courts and be stern with those who just ignore the systems.

Finally, this tragedy, this problem is everyone's concern, our mothers, fathers, children and families are all involved. We must respect ourselves and respect our people and our laws and make our roads safer for all, or we will all be consumed. The needs a comprehensive overhaul of our system.