As I was preparing this week’s column hoping to reflect on the recent spate of vehicle accidents and road fatalities, I got the sad news of yet another accident and death. This time, I knew the victim having attended Christ Church Foundation School with him. It is indeed a tragedy for the Royal Barbados Police Force, our alma mater and all of Barbados.
I obtained my driver’s license almost 30 years ago and have been driving since. I have witnessed and experienced over the years the many changes that have taken place on our roads as they relate to driving and driver’s habits. I have also driven in Trinidad where driving habits were somewhat different and more reckless several years ago when I lived there.
I commend the Barbados Road Safety Association and especially their President, Sharmane Roland-Bowen, on the very important role they are playing in sensitizing Barbadians on the importance of safety on our roads and highways. I am sure that it is by no means an easy task in the current climate and environment where, increasingly and almost daily, there are several accidents with road fatalities on the rise.
I have heard over the airwaves and seen in the press the Association’s representatives pleading for better driving standards on our roads and much more due care and attention. They continue to advocate for several initiatives that can help to reduce vehicular accidents and, hopefully, significantly reduce road fatalities.
I found their recent protest, even though small in number, outside a rum factory a very bold and courageous step in bringing awareness to the harms of alcohol, especially as they relate to drinking and driving. Mrs Roland-Bowen’s comments, then, certainly reflect the passion she feels in tackling head-on this issue. She is quoted as saying: “We are standing up for safety on our roads. There is too much wrong happening on our roads, too many things that are being swept under the carpet and too many things that people are turning a blind eye to. All the while, lives are being lost on our roads”.
It is apparent that we can’t talk enough, do enough and advocate enough for road safety awareness. It seems there will always be a need to do more. The fact that our road fatalities numbers are higher in the first quarter of 2017 than for all of 2016 must certainly be a serious wake-up call for all of us who use the highways and byways of Barbados in whatever mode or manner.
I am asking two questions and explaining my rationale for these two questions. They relate to what is happening on our roads.
(1) To what extent do changes in our society, social and economic conditions included, impact on the way road users, pedestrians and drivers alike, operate as they go about their business?
(2) To what extent over the years have the attitude and behaviour of some public service vehicle operators played in creating a culture and mind-set of road use among young and upcoming road users?
As to the first question, Barbados has seen a phenomenal rise in the amount of vehicles found on our roads. From the tender age of 16, driver’s licenses can be obtained. There is no further testing until much later in life when age and health become a determining factor in one’s ability to maneuver on the roads.
Everything that happens in one’s personal life will ultimately impact on the manner with which we operate on the roads, good or bad, positively or negatively. For years, the cry all over the world, especially in the more developed countries, related to the very harmful effects of drinking and driving. Countless lives have been lost at the hands of drivers impaired by the effects of alcohol use.
Alcohol consumption is certainly a main contributor to dulling the senses and ability to react quickly. In our world today, many other consumables, devices and distractions are impairing our ability to use the roads safely and effectively. Scientists are arguing that our attention span has decreased significantly over previous generations.
Researchers are saying that the average person’s attention span has dropped from 12 to eight seconds. This, they say, highlights the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. In one survey, it was found that 77 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, is reaching for my phone the first thing I do?”
I believe that all of these developments and lifestyle changes are impacting significantly on road users. Less attention span means less focus when driving or walking. This is a recipe for disaster when one is at the steering wheel. It is not a cliché when we hear people say one has to drive for oneself and the other road users. One may be extremely focused and careful on the road but one has to be always on guard for the road user, driver, rider or pedestrian, who isn’t.
I witnessed a few weeks ago a primary school child walking from Pine Road to Culloden Road, continue walking across Collymore Rock at the traffic lights without paying attention to the traffic signals. As she got midway across the pedestrian crossing and, realizing that traffic was moving, she stood frozen. Drivers had to indicate to her to go to the pole and press the button to allow the walk signal to come up. I wondered to myself if she was ever made aware of the correct procedures when using the roads or was it a momentarily lapse of attention.
For question (2), I would like to suggest that there is a correlation between the behaviour and bad practices of some public service vehicle operators and the mind-set among some road users.
Having been exposed from an early age to these bad practices on our roads, some persons may feel that it is ok to do the same when they have their own vehicles. So we have a culture on our roads that we can, as the Trinis say, “bad drive” someone else. A culture of “it doesn’t matter” what affects other road users, I just do as I wish, regardless of the consequences. Reckless driving, speeding, stopping where one feels, not using signals, not observing traffic signals and the list goes on. All of these contribute to accidents and, sadly. to deaths.
Sensitizing road users to the proper use of the road and the perils if they don’t comply must continue. This process has to begin in the nursery schools and continue throughout all ages. The laws must also be strengthened to punish harshly road abusers. For those who believe in prayers, let us not forget to constantly pray for everyone’s safety and security while on our streets.
A Muslim is expected, every time he or she sets out on a journey, to recite the following:
“God is the Most Great. Glory is to Him Who has provided this for us though we could never have had it by our efforts. Surely, unto our Lord we are returning. O God, we ask You on this our journey for goodness and piety, and for works that are pleasing to You. O God, lighten this journey for us and make its distance easy for us. O God, You are our Companion on the road and the One in Whose care we leave our family. O God, I seek refuge in You from this journey’s hardships, and from the wicked sights in store and from finding our family and property in misfortune upon returning.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)