I think many Jamaicans will say “About damn time!” (excuse my language) at the announcement (yet another one) that the PM and government will take measures to deal with what has become a national ill. I speak of the mayhem and havoc on our roads on a daily basis, which seem to have gotten worse in the past year or so (or it could be that more of these instances are now captured in images and videos). So, the Gleaner headline says PM ‘vows to quell traffic chaos‘. Key points cited are:

  • “I want the taxi men and road users as well to appreciate that there can be no prosperity in chaos and disorder,”
  • Motorists who breached the Road Traffic Act with impunity by disobeying traffic lights would face stiff fines with the introduction of new technology to monitor breaches.
  • “Next year, there will be a programme to have smart technology, including cameras, at every single stop light in the Corporate Area,…The law has been modified to allow for prosecution of persons who have been detected by electronic means.”
  • The prime minister also revealed that he has had talks with Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson with a view to designating “zero-tolerance areas” in the country.

Truly, little of this is new in terms of intent, but the effort to use technology in the fight will be a new step. I am going to take the line of ‘fool me once…’ and say that promises of using technology to tackle a major problem in Jamaica have been made in the past and little signs of success are there and embarrassingly part of the failure has been the lack of implementation and maintenance of the technology. I offer as Exhibit 1 disused traffic signals that are now part of our urban architecture. I offer as Exhibit 2 body cameras for the JCF. My realistic assessment is also not moving towards optimism because as yet I have seen little to suggest the JCF has moved its technology profile much in decades. I offer as Exhibit 3 the police station manual log book. Some optimism may be due from the overdue measures to streamline and make effective the ticketing system so that fines do get paid and drivers who are continually indisciplined and dangerous face some serious sanction.

We have a road safety campaign dubbed ‘under 300’, which is aimed at getting road deaths down below that figure. We’ve been closer to 400 in recent years. Much of the trouble comes from motorcyclists and their obvious vulnerability and recklessness (in a regime that is so lax with regard to licensing that it’s only a fool who’d expect otherwise) and speeding and mad manoeuvres by other motor vehicles, plus the wanton disregard for personal safety of many pedestrians. There’s a general disregard for good conduct by many on the roads that puts all lives at risk all the time. I won’t go here into the complicity of those who design and build roads and their consistent introduction of more risk rather than less.

The most egregious behaviour that many see, repeatedly, especially by some route taxis and minibuses–wild overtaking, forcing extra lanes on busy roads, driving on sidewalks, indiscriminate stopping, overloading, and a host of other malpractices–are not often cited as causes of crashes or deaths. But the impunity that seems to be the privilege of this class of motorists sets a very bad tone about needing to take care on the road. We’ve not yet had the full accounting of the motorists brought to court with hundreds of unpaid tickets and whether they will really face the full force of the law in settling these, having their licences withdrawn or other sanctions (some would love to see vehicles crushed).

Many will have seen that writ large yesterday, ironically, as many of the partisan supporters of the PM and his party were heading to the National Arena for the JLP annual conference: speeding, passengers hanging out of vehicles, passengers on top of vehicles as they were being driven, undertaking on the hard shoulder, disregard for traffic signals. The short clip from my dashcam yesterday morning on Mandela Highway will show you exactly what was going on. Not far ahead of these instances we saw the results with a mangled car on the hard should by the new Nestle complex. Sadly, a cousin of mine who is a surgeon and was heading home at the time had to head to the hospital to perform surgery on one of the victims. That is another hidden cost of the road mayhem and its carnage, and is as savage in its cost to us all as the many murders and assaults.

Part of me wants to offer to the PM the suggestion that he should have upbraided his supporters in his speech, but that may seem a step too far.

I hope it’s not lost on many that this measure to bring some semblance of sanity to a vital part (no pun) of Jamaican’s daily experiences could be a major vote getter with the next general election looming closer in the rear view mirror.