The value of human life and road safety

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THE recent deadly accidents on our roadways are of tremendous concern to everyone. Safety continues to be a pressing problem as there is an accident almost daily on our roadways due to reckless and lawless driving.

There is no denying that ours is a country where road usage by vehicles is becoming more and more dangerous and catastrophic. With the advent of an increase in newer vehicles, and recognising that our roads are not up to standard or capable of handling such traffic, there needs to be a regulation of speed based on the condition of roads, the pedestrian traffic, and the number of residents living there. Conditions can incorporate types of roads, rain, standing water, flood areas, etc.

The problem has become more complex as we struggle with the significant increase in the number of vehicles which outstrips the increase of road networks. This is one of the serious dilemmas in countries where there is continuous economic growth and improved living standards.

In our case, the rate of accidents is extremely high and per capita we are the country with the highest number of accidents.
What is most disturbing is the fact that most road accidents are preventable; they simply occur because road users do not adhere to traffic rules. While some blame must be placed on the police force for this unfortunate state of affairs, it must at the same time be borne in mind that it is impossible for police officers to be everywhere at the same time. It is the duty of all road users to adhere to traffic rules and to act responsibly when using the roadways.

No matter how many police officers patrol our roads, accidents will continue to happen at an alarming rate if road users do not obey the rules of the road and act in a responsible manner; so the fundamental issue is that road users have safety on our roads in their hands. The agonising loss of life, limb and property in Guyana and globally cannot be over emphasised and this has to be stopped now, because the trend is indeed a frightening one. One shudders to think what our country would become in a few years time if this trend continues.

A 2013 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that nearly 3,400 people die on the world’s roads every day. Tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly are among the most vulnerable of road users. WHO works with partners – governmental and non-governmental – around the world to raise the profile of the preventability of road-traffic injuries and promote good practices related to helmet and seat-belt wearing, not drinking and driving, not speeding and being visible in traffic. WHO adds that about 1.24 million people die each year on the world’s roads; and between 20 and 50 million sustain non-fatal injuries. Young adults aged between 15 and 44 years account for 59% of global road-traffic deaths.

The report shows that road-traffic injuries remain an important public health problem despite progress in a number of countries. To reduce the number of road-traffic injuries, the pace of legislative change and enforcement needs to be hastened and more attention paid to vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists. Apart from the actual deaths, injuries and suffering, accidents also put a tremendous financial squeeze on the public health care system and depletes a country’s human resource capacity. It is therefore of absolute necessity that no effort be spared to minimise the unacceptable number of accidents on our roads.

Unlike what some are wont to believe, the problem is not exclusively one for the government. On the contrary, road safety is everybody’s business and it has to be tackled from every possible angle and level. Therefore to begin, drivers must be better trained and educated in road usage; traffic education should be intensified in schools and other educational institutions and at the community level; traffic laws and regulations and penalties need to be periodically reviewed and amended if necessary, and of course road networks have to be modernised and expanded to cope with increasing volumes of traffic. With regard to the latter, availability of finance would be a key factor, but with the trend in Guyana this is becoming an imperative.

Not all accidents can be avoided, but there are too many that occur that could have been. Driving can become routine, but what persons fail to realise is that while many routes we take may be the same, the situation never is. As such, vigilance must be exercised on the part of both authorities and drivers; the 5 Cs must become a mantra, and the value for human life must be a top priority when getting behind the wheel.