The killing fields of Guyana
March 8, 2007
The killing fields have always been associated with wars. There were the killing fields of Flanders during the First World War, the killing fields of Normandy during the Second World War and numerous killing fields. There were the killing fields of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and those in Afghanistan and Darfur.
The genocide in Rwanda has led to talks about another set of killing fields.
Guyana has its killing fields but these have nothing to do with war. No peace organisation needs to come here to negotiate peace but we do need some intervention to halt the killings that go on in ours. Many of these are avoidable but because of the absence of adequate supervision, the killings continue in Guyana.
Every public road in this country has become a killing field because our law enforcement officers are hard-pressed to effect proper monitoring of how we use the roads. This is one of the few countries where people get killed on pedestrian crossings simply because motorists see the roadway as one big stretch for them to proceed merrily along, with no care for any other thing that may happen to use the road.
Such is the absence of proper supervision that only yesterday, a woman using the pedestrian crossing outside the Camp Street jail narrowly missed being run over. She was almost across the road and could have been clearly seen by anyone.
However, an approaching motorist had decided that he was not prepared to heed any such thing as a pedestrian on a specially demarcated area on the roadway. The woman jumped back and the car continued on its way—the driver ignoring the stream of abuses from the eyewitnesses to the near accident.
This is not an isolated case. In the courts at this moment we have people being prosecuted for causing the death of children who happened to be using a pedestrian crossing when a vehicle struck them down.
Along the major thoroughfares there are signs urging motorists to slow as they approach these crossings but there are just not enough—if any—highway patrols to effect the rules. And when some of the motorists are hauled before the courts there is what appears to be a disparity in the penalties.
In the past, the courts banned motorists; they jailed a few for causing death; fined a large many but nothing seems to have changed. One school of thought is that today's motorist is functionally illiterate and therefore has a torrid time analysing situations.
In fact, the new system of having them do some written tests may do something about the quality of people who drive on the streets. It would certainly allow for a greater examination by the authorities of the people who are granted motor vehicle licences.
But what about the few who seek to avoid the examinations? These have been the people who bribed their way toward getting their licences only to find that their fraud only landed them in some trouble.
The move to computerise the entire licencing system will help streamline the people who should be using the roads. And in cases where the courts may impose a ban on a driver, that fact would be immediately available for scrutiny by those who police the roads.
For a country with the total volume of roads that we have, too many people are dying on the roads. At one time we had one of the highest road fatality ratios in the western world. And we do know how high our fatality figures are; so high that whenever we record a drop we celebrate. The past year saw a decline and the police attributed this to the increased vigilance of the officers. We believe that it had to do with the state of the roads for the greater part. Wherever good roads existed the deaths were relatively high.
There has been the case of the child who was decapitated following an accident on the East Bank Demerara public road. Three vehicles hit the boy. This suggested that the drivers were not paying due care and attention, nor were they driving within the range of their headlights.
This is symptomatic of the way we use the roads. One of the offenders was a policeman and this further highlights the story.
Until we revisit our patrols and our laws, our killing fields will be with us.