The way forward for our troubled economy remains issue number one for the newly installed Government, businesses, investors and householders alike, and that is as it should be, but there are equally glaring bumps that we can’t speed over.
The disturbing number of road fatalities so far this year and the increasing daily skirmishes on our roads, which frequently result in injuries and damage, yet again bring to the fore hard questions about the safety of our highways and byways.
And although many of us appear to quickly move past the trauma caused by road crashes, the fact is that these have far more implications than the burden they place on the police, Fire Service, health care system and other national resources.
Families are left to grieve loved ones.
A check today with the Royal Barbados Police Force revealed that the island has recorded 17 road deaths from 15 major accidents so far this year. Seven fatalities occurred in five accidents in the past three weeks alone – a sobering reminder of the importance of vigilance on the road.
Each of these accidents is unique, and it remains to be established what caused them or what might have prevented them.
But even without formal research, one can easily conclude that far too many accidents in Barbados result from careless driving, speeding, drinking and driving, the use of cellular phones while driving, using unfit and unregistered vehicles, as well as poorly maintained roads.
We need to urgently get to the bottom of these persistent problems and hopefully save lives in the process.
It is for this reason that we concur with calls by the Head of the Operations Services Division with responsibility for the Traffic Department, Superintendent Antonio Forte, for a road safety audit.
Speaking on radio recently Forte said: “We are currently looking at a road safety audit, and our intention is to have dialogue with the Licensing Authority and the Ministry of Transport and Works in order to see if we can address some of these concerns and if it’s a contributory factor as it relates to roads or lighting.”
This is a useful idea, which should not fall by the wayside.
Of course, lighting is not the only issue that needs to be closely examined.
Last November, at the height of a year of record accidents, there were amendments to the Road Traffic Act which included a ban on the use of mobile devices by motorists behind the wheel – a major contributor to distracted driving.
We are still waiting for other key provisions to be enacted, including the introduction of breathalyzer testing.
The new Barbados Labour Party Government has already declared its intention to make changes to the new Act as part of its legislative agenda, and we urge that this be done sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, we expect to hear from the Minister of Transport and Works Dr William Duguid on how he intends to tackle this business of road safety.
Government needs to clearly outline a zero tolerance approach, which should include stepping up public education campaigns to get all road users – motorists, cyclists and pedestrians – to be more responsible.
Truth be told, traffic injuries and deaths are not accidents because they can be prevented.
Everyone has a role to play when it comes to road safety. All road users must take responsibility for safety on the roads and it shouldn’t take a threat of a fine or imprisonment to motivate a sensible change in our road habits.
Authorities may also want to give serious consideration to an oft repeated recommendation from the tireless President of the Barbados Road Safety Association Sharmane Roland-Bowen for a traffic school to be established to better equip our drivers with the techniques of defensive driving and, over time, help us to change course and develop good road habits.