Saturday 18 August, 2018

Road deaths trending down as NRSC moves towards ‘safer systems’

The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) has seen a reduction in the number of deaths on Jamaica’s roads since its establishment 25 years ago, according to its Vice Chairman, Dr Lucien Jones.

He noted, however, that challenges remain, and new approaches will be adopted.

Dr Jones was speaking at the NRSC’s mid-year press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister last Thursday.

He said the number of road fatalities stood at over 400 persons annually in 1993, and by 2012 the number fell to a low of 260 – a ratio of 9.2 road deaths per 100,000 of the population.

Since then, numbers have moved up to exceed 300. Nevertheless, last year saw much improvement, with 321 deaths, compared to 379 in 2016.

So far this year, up to Thursday, there was a total of 180 fatalities recorded, eleven fewer than the 191 fatalities that were recorded up to that time last year.

Dr Jones cited several contributing factors over the years. He emphasised the importance of close collaboration among several agencies and individuals, which/who continue to work towards the national target of below 300 deaths annually. He stressed, however, that exhorting people to drive more slowly and safely was not the only strategy.

The NRSC reminded the media not to refer to incidents on our roads as accidents, but as crashes, a point that stresses the importance of persons taking responsibility for their bad behaviour.

Safe and sustainable transportation systems, Dr Jones asserted, were “the new context in which we need to move forward for the second half of 2018 and beyond.”

He said safe systems demand that the country imports safer motor vehicles, construct safer roads, legislate safer speeds, and encourage safer road use in order to prevent injuries. Safe systems also include improvements to the ticketing system and policing, and the introduction of speed cameras for the traffic police.

Guest speakers at the mid-year press briefing included Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, who spoke of the enormous impact road crashes have annually on the nation’s health sector; Head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen, who warned the public not to allow themselves to be transported in uninsured public passenger vehicles; and Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, Director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute, who presented scientific data on fatal crashes, and who also highlighted the upcoming island-wide use of surveillance cameras to help law enforcement authorities to better crack down on dangerous and illegal driving practitioners.

The NRSC, a parliamentary-established body that meets with the prime minister on a quarterly basis, has joined the global road safety effort as well, signing up for the United Nation’s ‘vaccine’ concept. This involves lobbying for and becoming a part of, the process of drafting legislation on Driving While Impaired and Safety Devices.

Prime Minister and NRSC Chairman, Andrew Holness, supports the UN Call for a Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011 – 2020), which aims to cut fatalities by 50 per cent.

Working with the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA), the NRSC helped to build the capacity of the Ministry of Transport’s Road Safety Unit to provide accurate and timely data. NRSC Executive Director, Paula Fletcher, underwent specialist training in Sweden in road safety.

“Our sights are now set on strengthening institutional capacity and the empirical basis for road safety promotion through the current engagement of Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health,” said Fletcher while making her presentation at the briefing. Johns Hopkins researchers are currently undertaking a year-long study to produce a gap analysis (a comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance), and will provide recommendations for programming, policy, and/or research to reduce traffic-related crashes, deaths, and injuries in Jamaica.

So far, says Dr Jones, even though the NRSC has “done a credible job” in contributing to the reduction in road fatalities, there is still more work to be done.

“The challenge we now face as a national body charged with the responsibility of dealing with the second leading cause of violent death in our nation,” he said, “is not only how to sustain the gains we have achieved, but to significantly lower the death rate on the nation's roads.”

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