Our traffic culture tells a lot about the Guyanese character
December 8, 2006
I didn't know that the speed limit on Carifesta Avenue was 45 kilometres. One morning, I reclined under a tree in the National Park and witnessed the operation of a lone police officer with the radar.
The guy was stopping motorists who were driving slowly, according to my imagination. So I came out of the park, and went to him. I asked him what was the speed limit. He said 45 kilometres. That meant that for all my years of driving on Carifesta Avenue , I was guilty of breaking the traffic law regarding the speed limit on that highway.
If Carifesta Avenue is 45 kilometres, then surely, the West Coast Berbice road, after you depart the ferry for Demerara, has to be the same, or less. But I haven't seen any driver observing the driving restriction on the West Berbice road. I wrote about my experience on this road in one of my columns three years ago, I will repeat it now. Normally, I would be the first to leave the ferry, since I would wait for all the other cars to park.
The sailors knew me, so they gave me that concession. For the one year that I spent teaching on the Berbice campus of the University of Guyana , I had not seen a driver who went into Demerara, or Region 4, behind me, even though I was the first driver to depart from the Rosignol terminus. All types of drivers – young, old men, middle-aged women, parents with their babies in the front seats – would pass me on the road, blatantly disregarding the speed requirements.
Some things are not nice to say, but they are part of reality, and should be said. One does not wish death upon another person, but it is better for a recklessly fast driver to kill himself than kill an innocent pedestrian. What purpose does the world serve when you are walking on the pedestrian pavement with your young kids, and up comes a machismo motorist and he ploughs into the entire family leaving no survivors? When that happens, you ask yourself where is the Almighty?
I refuse to be apologetic when I say that it is better for an irresponsible fast-lane fool to kill himself when he goes out of control at the wheel than kill innocent cyclists. I live at the junction of Hadfield Street and Louisa Row, and I have seen so many fatalities at that corner, since I was a mere teenager, that some of those memories haunt me. On Christmas Eve Day, ten years ago, a mother left her Christmas cake baking in the oven, and came out to buy some margarine. She got smashed up, and died right in front of my eyes. I have seen a supersonic car hit a woman, and she kept rolling like a ball under the car. For two blocks from where she got struck, the car took her with it Speeding is a crime in Guyana which should not carry a fine, but a mandatory term in prison. People who speed while driving in Guyana are ignorant humans, unfit for civilised societies. Why Guyana ? Because there are no roads, streets, or highways that can accommodate speeding in this country, except the Linden Highway . We do not have highways that exist far away from human settlements, as is the case of a majority of countries.
Take our main arteries. There is the East Coast highway. This begins from Celina Atlantic Resort on the Kitty Atlantic. From Plaisance, until one leaves Region Four, this highway runs through countless villages. There are two isolated areas, one in Mahaica, the other in Mahaicony. This is no highway, then, in the technical sense of the term. This is one straight narrow road. How then can you speed along this road when you are literally driving through village after village until you leave region 4?
You are going to kill innocent persons if you drive in an intoxicated manner along these human settlements. It becomes dangerous in the night, since there are no street lights from Better Hope to Molson Creek, which is where Guyana ends. Next, there is the East Bank road that takes you to the airport. Unlike the East Coast road, which has large, deserted spaces between Mahaica and Mahaicony, once you leave the offices of Kaieteur News on Saffron Street , heading for the airport, all you pass are villages. You are going to kill villagers if you speed, as in the case with the East Coast road. The same story goes for the highways from the Canje Bridge in East Berbice , and for West Coast Demerara.
In one of my Kaieteur News columns, I mentioned a little observation of mine. Let me repeat it here. You know I am a hermit inhabiting the Georgetown seawall. Well, one midday, I sat on the wall and studied a certain type of traffic behaviour that was shocking. If you are travelling west on the East Coast highway, just yards before the highway touches Sheriff Street , the police drew a large SLOW sign on the road in white paint. I watched, for 40 minutes, the different vehicles going by, and not one of them slowed when he/she approached that sign. I cannot comment on the case involving the driver who smashed into the vehicle of the former Chief Justice, Rudolph Harper, killing him, because the matter is before the courts. But there is a SLOW sign there once you are coming from the west.
Our traffic laws, traffic penalties and traffic infrastructure are now outdated. The Guyana of the fifties and the sixties is not the Guyana of today. Long ago, you borrowed your rich father's car. Today, even the children of the middle class have their own cars. The offspring of the wealthy have more than one car at their disposal. When we had the train, there weren't any minibuses. Today, Guyana sends a hefty sum (by our poor standard) to Japan for the purchase of countless mini-buses. In the sixties, you could have counted the number of taxi-services available.
Today, everywhere you turn, you see a taxi. The point is the vehicular population has grown by thousands of percentage points since the sixties. The government and the Guyana Police Force need to come up with a comprehensive, strategic plan for traffic infrastructure.
Too many people are dying on the roads. Incidentally, a lecturer at UG's Faculty of Technology wrote me a note I received yesterday to tell me that I drove badly in front of him, and he needs an explanation. I can't recall the incident, but I apologised to him, and I am doing it again in this column.