HARDLY a day goes by without a news report of at least one traffic accident. In a country with a population of far fewer than a million persons, Guyana simply cannot afford to have so many traffic collisions and other types of incidents.
According to statistics published by the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), deaths from traffic crashes constitute one of the top ten causes of fatalities in Guyana. It is the number one cause of death among persons between the ages of five and 14 and the number two cause of death among persons aged 15 to 24.
PAHO/WHO reports too, that within the Americas, traffic collisions are the leading cause of death of persons between the ages of five and 14 years old, and the number two cause of unnatural death of those between 15 and 44 years. This constitutes 80 per cent of all deaths of males.
And, the problem is not unique to Guyana, as, in the Americas, there are about 140,000 fatalities due to traffic accidents every year, some 70,000 of which are children under five, and over 5 million people suffer injuries. Interestingly, it was found that low-income countries have increasing death rates due to traffic collisions. Here in Guyana, the GPF records some 15.88 deaths per year per 100,000 persons.
Traffic incidents — as much of the developed world prefers to call them, since “accident” implies that no-one is to be blamed — occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other immobile obstruction or object, such as a tree, pole or building. An incident may also occur if the operator of a vehicle, for any reason, loses control and departs from the roadway, and, probably ends up in a trench, for example.
The GPF says that in this country, the leading causes of traffic mishaps are speeding and driving while under the influence of alcohol. Other major causes are driving while distracted by use of a cellphone, pedestrian inattentiveness, and failure to heed traffic signs and warnings. The APNU+AFC administration is acutely aware of the issue; President David Granger has said that road safety is a very important priority for him. His Excellency has noted that over the last 15 years, more than 2,000 Guyanese have been killed on the roadways. The president has characterised the problem as a serious epidemic.
He observed that no government should ignore the deaths of so many of its citizens in such a short period of time. “We have a road fatality rate that is four times that of Barbados. Guyana occupies the fifth place in the Western Hemisphere for road fatalities,” the president lamented. His Excellency mentioned that we have to make our roads safer, and explore means, measures and methods to reduce injuries, risks, and the deaths of persons on our roadways.
His Excellency alluded to the prevalence of builders’ waste, vendors, stray animals, poor architecture of roads, poorly-lit roadways and other issues. Those factors, the president said, contribute to making our roads hazardous.
He stated that the government continues to take a holistic look at the road safety problems in Guyana. Fortunately, as government works to address the problem, Guyana’s international partners are more than willing to assist us. For example, PAHO/WHO continues to play a significant role in supporting local initiatives, including facilitating road safety consultations among stakeholders, collaborating with government in the preparation of policy documents, among other forms of backing.
Another case in point is the grant last year of US$1.4M to procure some 70,000 LED streetlights for Guyana’s roads. As government does its part, citizens must also do theirs. Drivers have an obligation to make a commitment to desist from operating vehicles after consuming alcohol or other drugs that may impair judgement, and to abstain from using their cellphones whilst driving.
Occupants of vehicles have a duty to obey the law by using seatbelts. Motorcyclists should wear helmets, and pedestrians should remain vigilant and be careful while on the road, especially when vehicular traffic is heavy. In other words, all Guyanese have a part to play in reducing the number of traffic incidents, and we need to take that duty seriously.