The National Road Safety Council, in conduction with the FIA Foundation, held a forum in KINGSTON this week at the Pegasus hotel. Coverage was provided live by Phase 3 production; attached is a link to the live stream feed they provided during the two days. Live stream feed Radio coverage was also provided both days by Nationwide Radio.

I was only able to attend the second day, but during my visit discussions were lively and well informed. I’ll just share some of the key points that struck me from the various presentations.

On the main theme of the danger of speeding vehicles and children, it was notable that geospatial data show the high concentration of accidents/crashes near school grounds. Yet, children are not the main victims of such incidents. What may be happening is that the tendency of children to cross roads without too much care and the volume of vehicles that may be near schools at various times of the day create an environment where accidents are more likely to happen. For example, I cited the common sight I witness of hordes of boys from Jamaica College exiting the school in the afternoon. Despite there being a traffic light to facilitate crossing, the boys tend to march across, waving their hands (as children tend to in Jamaica). Vehicles approaching may be traveling with little hint that they may need to make a sudden stop. Now, I’ve never seen any cousins there, but have seen lots of evasive action (‘near hits’). The students are mainly oblivious to the risks they create.

That’s not atypical of many situations in Jamaica, where both motorists and pedestrians engage in actions without much regard to their consequences and inconvenience created. There are few ways of pricing this behaviour away, except when it results in accidents. Then, insurance companies could start to impose higher premiums on these involved–though the risk is that both culprits and victims get snared. The best hope is for greater awareness and consideration—fine words, I know.

Available data about accidents in Jamaica can be puzzling, not least because it may be that under-recording features well-know to contribute to accidents, yet absent in Jamaica, eg driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is stranger given Jamaicans’ relatively lax attitudes towards drinking and certain herbal drugs 🙂

Besides speed and poor road conditions, we know in Jamaica that many problems come from a few categories of road users, especially public passenger vehicles (PSVs), and motorcyclists. Both represent areas where supervision and control of who can drive taxis or ride motorbikes has resulted in a chaotic and dangerous situation nationwide. But, within the nation, it seems that more accidents are occurring in the west of the island, especially those involving motorbikes. Anyone who has travelled to that end of the island know it’s like the ‘Wild West’ for motorbikes.

What Jamaica has great problems with in road safety is getting people to adopt practices well-known for saving lives–wearing seat belts, proper crash helmets, properly serviced vehicles, respecting speed limit, crossing at designated places and with care, etc. Plenty of information is publicly available, but my view is that our widespread lack of enforcement renders null most of the rules and regulations we have in place. Those who do not follow the rules often get reinforced by the ‘turning of a blind eye’ by JCF officers. We also know that conflicts of interest are in play, with JCF officers being major participants in the business of running PSVs.

Moral suasion is unlikely to make much of a dent in the bad habits. As with many things, incentives have to change. When users of motor vehicles can store up traffic fines and then get offered periodically amnesties, there’s little incentive to change behaviour. Views differ on what kind of incentives need to be in place. But, ones that impinge directly on activity would seem to have the best chance of biting where it hurts most. Whether seizing vehicles would lead to a raft of protests about ‘taking away livelihoods’ is unclear. However, society cannot constantly be held hostage to ‘end justifying means’ logic, where persistent disregard for the rights of others is the standard operating procedure. Personally, I also favour more transparency as could occur by making declaration of assets and business interests of public officials mandatory. Certainly, proving that potential conflicts of interest are absent is a good way forward.