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The key issue in any road safety campaign is enforcement

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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The following is a lightly edited statement from the National Road Safety Council (NRSC):

We are rejoicing that the new Road Traffic Act (RTA) was passed by the Lower House recently, and is expected to make an uneventful journey through the Senate before becoming the law of the land. This is indeed good news and is testament to the persistence and excellent work that the team, led by the senior policy adviser in the Ministry of Transport Joan Wynter, and others, including members of the NRSC's secretariat, Paula Fletcher and Victor Anderson, has carried out in service to the nation. And also, less we forget, thanks to members of the political directorate of this and past (including Mike Henry and Dr Omar Davies) administrations, and other civil servants, for political leadership and policy directives — all of this good news coming against the background of a significant reduction in road deaths in 2017 - 320, vs 2016 - 379.

However, even though the NRSC welcomes the additional resources that the new Act will provide in assisting us to fulfil our parliamentary mandate to “coordinate all activities to reduce road deaths and injuries”, this new provision is not a panacea, not a 'silver bullet'. But it is a major achievement for these reasons, and more:

KEY FEATURES OF THE NEW RTA (Assuming no changes when it goes to the Senate)

1. Drivers will no longer, under the new law, be able to text and drive, or use the cellphone without the aid of some type of 'hands-free' assistance — a major cause of distracted driving worldwide, resulting in deaths and injuries.

2. All learner drivers must pass the road code test before receiving a learner's permit. Also, a person can now only ride a motorcycle with a learner's permit if he is accompanied by a licensed rider on another motorcycle in close proximity. All of this in sharp contrast to the earlier provisions which allowed motorcyclists to purchase a learner's permit without any requirement for training. This will add to the other measures being employed to reduce the deaths and injuries of motorcyclists — a major reason for the spike in road deaths between 2012-2016 — 2012 - 44, 2016 - 109.

3. The Island Traffic authority will now be empowered to automatically suspend the licence of a driver if he or she exceeds the maximum number of demerit points, according to the new law. A move which, when the ticketing system is fully functional, will help to curb the recklessness which currently obtains on our roads.

4. All drivers will be required to travel with their licences or face stiff penalties. Previously, drivers had up to three days to produce a licence — a provision which led to many who had multiple tickets being able to escape the full force of the law, as in most cases there was no follow-up to determine if the person had a licence.

5. Stiffer fines for breaking the law, a provision which has provoked much comment, including the age-old issue of police corruption. Response: The NRSC acknowledges that this is a major issue but one beyond our jurisdiction, in terms of a final solution. However, since we have access to the highest authority in the country, the matter has been on the agenda for discussion for years. The fines, a matter over which the legislators preside, have to be set a level at which they make people think twice about breaking the law, otherwise they are of no use. Any call for a reduction of specific fines where perceived as onerous and unfair, I am sure, will be dealt with appropriately by the political directorate.

OTHER IMPORTANT FEATURES OF A ROAD SAFETY CAMPAIGN

So if the new RTA is not, in and by itself, going to be a panacea, what else do we have in the toolkit that will make a difference?

1. Enforcement: The key issue in any road safety campaign is enforcement and we have had our problems enforcing laws in Jamaica, especially in recent times, with a significant and ominous shift in our culture thus creating a settled behaviour pattern which now embraces, almost like a badge of honour, cynical breaking of the red lights, reckless overtaking, and impatience with any kind of road block — triggering the now infamous “out and bad actions” ( driving on the sidewalk ) by taxi drivers and coaster bus drivers. So, the police traffic officers are busy writing thousands of tickets without achieving the expected dramatic change in behaviour. Therefore, three things will have to be addressed if we wish to achieve the required behaviour change

at the same time: Introduction of cameras, a new and efficient ticketing system, and NIDS. Otherwise, even if we nab the offenders with cameras, without an efficient system of address verification and the ability to identify someone beyond a shadow of a doubt (given the ease with which a driver's licence can be forged), so that when they interface with any government agency, as they inevitably must do, action cannot be taken. The good news is that in respect of all three issues, despite the challenges, we are closing in on having the three issues functional.

2. Public Education - Courtesy of regular allotment of funds from the National Health Fund, and some funds from the private sector, the NRSC, and other stakeholders, we have been able to mount a robust public education campaign over the years, aided and championed by contributions from prominent personalities, individuals and teams — ReggaeBoyz, Sunshine Girls, Melanie Walker, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Tessanne Chin, Agent Sasco and others. And there is need for increased and more coordinated activity, especially in this era of social media with with its many and varied platforms influencing public behaviour.

3. Safe Systems: A new philosophy, a new way of achieving even better results in 'driving down' road deaths and injuries, is gaining traction across the world. In essence, this new approach calls for a shared responsibility between the road user and those who design the transportation system. Therefore, understanding that human beings will make mistakes, not if, but when, that happens, the road user ought not to be punished with injury and death. In this new dispensation then, the society — government, the private sector, civil society, urban planners, engineers, transport system managers — work together with the road user to achieve a “Safe Mobility System”. All of this coming “after seeing the impact from education and enforcement diminish over time”.

4. Research - The ability to design targeted interventions which result in the best outcomes is largely dependent on high-quality research. It was a landmark study at the UWI done by the now principal of the UHWI, Professor Archibald McDonald who, together with a passion for helping others, inspired the late Sir John Golding to work together with the Medial Association of Jamaica to establish the National Road Safety Council in 1993. In this respect, the NRSC has 'gone back to basics', and successfully lobbied for funds to pay for a major research project which will be carried out by the world-famous Johns Hopkins University: 'A Gap Analysis' during 2018.

TIME FOR URGENT ACTION

For far too long most people regarded the promotion of road safety as a matter of other people suffering personal loss /compassion, or to calm down the unruly behaviour of taxi driver and coaster bus drivers — anger and road rage… with a perspective, limited in my view, that the government ought to do something about it! But a recent publication by The Violence Prevention Alliance, led by Dr Elizabeth Ward, entitled 'The Cost of Care: The Burden of Violence - related Injuries and Road Traffic Crashes to the Health Care System of Jamaica' ought to give us pause, in respect of that narrow view of the impact of road deaths and injuries on our nation. Why? For this reason - Data from 7 study hospitals in 2014 showed that, “For road crashes, the estimated direct medical cost was $1.4 billion and the indirect productivity cost was $1.8 billion”. Compared to the “direct medical cost of $3.6 billion and the indirect cost of $5.0 billion, for violence-related Injuries.

When this kind of data is juxtaposed with the reality that in 2017 - 183 persons between 20-49, the age cohort representing the major section of our workforce, died on our roads, then we begin to understand that road traffic crashes is a major developmental issue. Further, there is good data from the WHO which shows that a country can lose up 2% of its GDP on account of road crashes; a figure which again ought to give us pause when we consider the challenges we have as a nation trying to achieve significant economic growth. Finally, in this context, given the importance of this issue internationally, the UN's recently established Sustainable Development Goals has road safety in two sections. 'Safe Cities' and 'Safe Mobility'.

All across the world, the data shows that two things are critical in any successful attempt to reduce deaths and injuries on a nation's roads: Adequate financing - results are directly related to what you spend, and a well-resourced and adequately empowered lead agency - The National Road Safety Council. The country needs to look way past the passing of the new Road Traffic Act, even though it is an important landmark, understand the profound national importance of reducing road traffic crashes and act quickly. For many, it's already too late. While for others, time is running out.

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