Road Safety Month—Slow down and Drive carefully – By Yvonne Sam
Drivers can do the nation a good deed by driving at the correct speed.
Armed with the known facts – President Granger is called upon to act.
With no malice or rancor aforethought, permit me to proffer my two bits on the road carnage occurring in Guyana, and at the selfsame time submit possible life saving solutions. Such is fitting and timely in light of November being Road Safety Month. The very fact that on average more than one person per day dies needlessly on the roads, and hundreds more are seriously injured every year is tantamount to a national scandal. The carnage brings in its wake (no pun intended) heartbreak and suffering to far too many individuals and families especially the young.
As a teacher of English, I have some difficulty in coming to grips with the term road accident. According to the well-respected Oxford lexicon, an accident is defined as an event without apparent cause, or an occurrence of things by chance. With hundreds of road deaths each year, the definition of accident certainly does not apply and if it does only to a small percentage. We all have a moral responsibility to seriously address this matter of grave concern, according it utmost priority, and towards this end the Government must show leadership. The year 2016 is almost drawing to a close, and it is at this juncture that I am seeking answers to promises made by both the past and the present government. Not being skilled at exhumation and even worse in forensic science I will just deal with the present and immediate to address my concern and inquiry.
In November 2015 at the official launching of Road Safety Month at the Arthur Chung Convention Center, President Granger in his feature address to students and other stakeholders openly stated that the time had arrived for order and sanity to be brought to the roadways of Guyana. He also mentioned Guyana’s commitment to achieving by 2020, the UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 3, which aimed at reducing the road fatalities and injuries from road accidents by one half. Giving further impetus to the message, in his remarks to the forum, Vincent Alexander, Advisor to the Minister of Education assured all present that the Ministry would be doing their best to ensure that speed bumps were placed in the vicinity of schools in Georgetown in the initial phase, while the same will be done across the country in the medium term. Pray tell me has this been done, or is it just another example of rhetoric, or merely telling the public what they wanted or needed to hear at the specific moment in time.
Strangely enough the cry surrounding the causal factors for this spiraling toll of fatalities have been the same for the past eight to ten years, from the tragedy at Amelia’s Ward, the horrific head-on collision in 2010 between a minibus and a truck along the Suzannah, No. 19 Village Public Road, Corentyne that left 12 persons dead, including a two-month-old,to the one on Homestretch Avenue in 2011, just to name a few. Rural roads run through heavily populated villages, which are often poorly lit or totally unlit at night. In addition, vying also for the limited navigable space available are farm animals, stray dogs, parked and broken down vehicles among others.
The reckless driving habits of some drivers have been the biggest contributory factor to the rising fatalities, as well as the displayed inexperience and temperament of drivers of commercial vehicles and minibuses. Simply and plainly put they should not be entrusted with human lives on public roads. Seemingly, the government is also out of step with the grand march of things, especially the increasing rate that new vehicles estimated at about 1,000 per month are being added to the roads. As the President said in 2015 that the time had come to return order and sanity on the roads, it is evident that the time came, went and carried with it many more lives. A new time has now come and to slightly alter the words of a well-known song by Sam Cooke, “A change has gotta come”. It’s been too long coming. Its arrival must be expedited.
The change is going to start from the top and trickle from the top, meandering its way through local village authorities and finally end on the streets where it all started. I am calling on President Granger to clearly outline to the populace his existing and future plans, so that all can become aware of the extent of his involvement (especially his priorities) in the process towards rectification of this national scandal. Investigations have shown that fatalities on rural roadways are attributable to rampant speeding both day and night, drunken driving and too few policemen being deployed. With the recent graduation on July 23, 2016 of 200 police recruits from the Felix Austin Police Academy, the problem of speeding etc, should be as good as solved.
Usher in the Minister of Public Security called upon to display a greater sense of responsibility with respect to road safety. What stringent measures have been put in place? What if any measures are left to be instituted? Has the time arrived for Guyana to start considering the installation of mandatory reflective and overhead gantry signs such as is being used in developed countries e. g Canada, U. S.A and England? There is a strong need for a major nationwide publicity campaign to inform the public that the actual speed limit on any minor road is the maximum safe speed that a vehicle can travel on that road. There should be lower speed limits set for minor roads, and the government can both invest as well as solicit assistance from the U.S.A Caribbean Basin Security Initiative ( under their 2009 pledge to work with Caribbean government to strengthen public safety) for the purchase of speed reader boards, driver feedback signs and Your Speed Signs. All speed-reader boards alert drivers to their actual speed as they pass by. Some of these reader boards also flash warnings such as “SLOW DOWN” when speeds reach a pre-set limit.Conducted studies done on driver feedback signs have indicated that they are highly effective in slowing traffic. Drivers who commit road traffic offences should be required to undertake, at their own fiscal expense, special remedial safe driving awareness lessons.
Trucks and other heavy duty equipment should have a visible identifiable reflector sign indicating that they are carrying heavy loads, and should travel with their flashers on especially at night. On the roadway they should only park in areas designated as rest stops and not just on the side of the road, or around a bend with lights off. .
New vehicles operating in Guyana should have ABS (air bag system) which has been credited with saving many a life. This measure comes hand in hand with mandatory car governors or rev limiters that prevent speedometers from reading above 90 m.p.h. The implementation of clear road markings, centre line, edge line and stop line. Junctions should be identified at night by the use of reflective green delineator posts.
School zones should be clearly identified with the appropriate signs, and should have speed humps around its entire perimeter. After all children are the future, and as such must be protected.
In 2012 the Guyana National Road Safety Council in an effort to make the roadways safe , pointed out the 5 C’s that were essential if a person wanted to avoid accidents and get from point A-B safely. On an ironical note in 2011 People’s National Congress Reform presidential candidate, Brigadier David Granger, called on the then administration to implement correct policing, rigorous law-enforcement, efficient road engineering and proper licensing of vehicle drivers. He added that the death toll figures were also a warning of the incompetence of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration. The President proposed that the Ministry of Home Affairs could have prevented most road accidents if stringent measures were put in place. . President Granger also referred to a statement by the then Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy wherein he stated that road accidents were the seventh leading cause of all deaths. Minister Ramsammy pointed out that the real tragedy was that not a single road death should occur since it is something that is preventable.
The more things changed the more they remained the same— same cars, same roads, same passengers, only a different captain at the helm.
The rhetoric must cease. Armed with the blatant facts and figures the President is now called upon to act. What’s the catch; you knew how to solve the problem when it was not on your watch. Now you have the ball- Go ahead and make the call. Regardless of the cost no more lives should be lost.
It is my fervent wish that drivers will do the nation a good deed by always driving at the right speed, and remember not only in the month of November but forever.