Perhaps because the local programme is not very dynamic, not many Barbadians may recall or even know that Barbados, like the rest of the world, is currently commemorating the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
The period, which began in 2011 and will end in 2020, is an initiative of the United Nations General Assembly with the goal of reducing the number of road deaths around the world. Global statistics show that 1.3 million persons die in traffic accidents each year.
Even more alarming is that as many as 50 million more are injured in similar fashion. We consider this more alarming, not because we wish the downplay the impact of death on those who are left behind, but to help readers to recognise that the pain and suffering, as well as the crippling financial cost, that result from injuries, can be even more devastating — if for no other reason than that the suffering and its attendant complications can go on for years.
We recall that the decade was launched here by then Minister of Transport and Works, John Boyce, but note that since then the initiative appears to have gone cold. Again we are not suggesting that the ministry is doing nothing, but that the public interaction component seems to have taken a break.
We do not believe it is an overstatement to suggest that our streets are cluttered, and that our society is characterised by a lot more frustration and impatience than at anytime in our history — a cocktail for misery on our roads and resulting from the accidents that occur.
Not only do we have more vehicles and more drivers than ever before, we also have a wider age range of drivers, and we suspect a larger number of active drivers at the two extremes of this range.
Increased affluence and earlier independence of our youth mean that more of them are seeking drivers licences earlier and are also taking control of vehicles — on their own — at an earlier age. At the same time as is stated so often, we are an ageing society and many more of our seniors are not prepared to give up their independence until they are satisfied, or are convinced by force, that they are no longer fit to be operating a potentially lethal piece of equipment — a car.
So we have a situation where the youth want to get to their destination in a hurry and the maturity of seniors constantly reminding them there really is no need to rush because for sure, “if greedy waits, hot will cool”.
Everyday we see the results of the collision of these two perspectives of the ages — rash overtaking, incessant honking of the horns, the ever-rising middle finger, and the likes. This is where we see the absolute need for sustained, sensible, compelling public education programmes aimed at ensuring no Barbadian ever enters a street without thinking about the goals of the decade — ultimately the preservation of all life.
Apart from education, however, we believe that Government must step up its programme of road infrastructure improvements, and we are not talking about just paving road surfaces. While we recognise that MTW has been involved over the last two decades in a programme of eliminating dangerous junctions, there is one aspect of our highway safety that has been woefully neglected.
We are talking about the provision of sidewalks for pedestrians, and no place is the absence more apparent and the danger more glaring than along one of the busiest highways in the country, Highway 1 — in particular between the Frank Worrell Roundabout at Black Rock and Speightstown, St. Peter.
And while it appears that Barbadians have become immune to fear of the dangers of walking along this street, we can’t help but comment on the fear that appears to grip so many of our visitors when on this street. There is really no justification for this state of affairs in 2013.
We know the excuse for not bringing this road up to standard has been the pending construction of the West Coast Sewerage Project, but for heaven’s sake, that dates back to the time of Prime Minister Tom Adams and he died in 1985 — that’s two years short of three decades ago.
Let’s get to the safety of pedestrians during this decade because there is nothing to suggest the sewerage system will come any time soon.
And in this age when reputable construction companies are so anxious to source funding for public/private partnership projects, the upgrade of Highway 1 would be a major injection to a flat economy without immediately costing the Treasury.
We are three years into the Decade of Action for Road Safety, with little to show for it. Will we reach 2020 with the indignity of being no farther ahead than we were in 2011?