Vital part of our future ripped away To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
January 17, 2002

I wish to join with others in expressing my sincere condolences to the surviving relatives of the four young people who perished in, what I believe was, a rather gruesome road accident last Friday on the East Bank Essequibo.

And a speedy recovery to the injured victims, is my prayer.

Upon reading the accounts of the accident on the Internet, and noting the age group of the passengers who suffered, it pained me to know that, yet again, a vital part of our future was violently ripped from us, and all because of careless and reckless driving.

While some families may be forced to depend on time and support from others to heal and find closure, or surviving victims themselves may have to endure what may appear like an interminably long recovery, with recurring nightmarish psychological flashbacks, there seems to be no shortage of ideas on what should be done to make the roads safer for pedestrians and passengers.

For as long as I can remember in Guyana, ideas for safer road usage have been articulated and advocated with mixed responses, but often times accident rates dropped when the police aggressively stepped up their anti-road accident campaign with roadblocks and checks along stretches of roadways known for use by drivers as racetracks.

Once the campaign experienced a lull, drivers went right back at it pushing the pedal to the metal. Ironically, some younger passengers who found speeding a thrilling experience dared drivers to "do it," with near misses and apparent dexterity at slicing and dicing between parked or moving vehicles evoking a sound of approval from the youngsters for the bravado.

Worse still was if the driver was a young male and there were young females aboard.

It really has not dawned on most reckless drivers that a vehicle is a useful instrument that can quickly become a deadly one if it is not properly used.

Education remains key, however, even though legal action with jail time and fines may be useful punitive measures. In Guyana, there may be need for quarterly or half-yearly 'brush-up' classes for minibus or public transportation drivers, sponsored by the police's Traffic Department at a fee.

The classes have to be specifically geared to public transportation drivers with both literature and video and photographic presentations, supported by a question and answer test at the end of the class. The video and photo presentations should include, among other useful lessons, pictures of actual road accidents and victims (faces covered to protect identity).

One of the subjects of the classes should focus on the public transportation vehicle itself; its net weight, the maximum allowable weight with maximum allowable speed, the complete physical fitness of the vehicle with certified documents to present upon request showing its most recent fitness test, and the road worthiness of the tyres (including air requirement). Overloading is a serious problem.

Failing this class, along with a physical fitness and vision test, prevents the driver from obtaining a renewed licence for operating a public transportation vehicle. The licence itself, different from a regular licence, should specifically state the driver took the mandatory tests and passed. The cost and experience of it all should be a constant reminder to the licencee that transporting passengers is a serious life and death responsibility and not a mere money making exercise.

One other punitive measure, if it does not already exist, outside of fines and jail time, is that Government should pass legislation empowering the police to seize or impound public transportation vehicles being operated by speeding and reckless drivers. Even drivers of private vehicles caught driving in a reckless manner or driving while under the influence of alcohol should suffer the same fate.

Either the owners cough up a percentage of the vehicle's current value to help pay for road safety programmes, or the vehicle goes on the auction block, or it becomes state property. Drivers who are not owners should be fined and suspended for a period of time on the first offense, fined and banned for a longer time on the second, and banned for life with jail time and fines on the third.

As I said, there is no shortage of ideas, but somehow there must be enforcement of ideas that become laws that may result in prevention of road accidents in Guyana. Our country already has a small population which is a setback for the national labour market at a time when economic recovery and growth call for more skilled hands and well-educated minds. Should I still remind us of the pain of losing a loved one as another major reason?
Emile Mervin,
Brooklyn, New York