Fri | Oct 15, 2021

Lucien W. Jones | NRSC pulling out all the stops to make our roads safe

Published:Tuesday | October 12, 2021 | 12:08 AM
Dr. Lucien Jones
Dr. Lucien Jones
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The Gleaner, on October 3, published an article by Tariq Kiddoe captioned ‘Road Safety Bias Killing Motor Cyclists’. This response is not necessarily meant to counter the points made by a Jamaican who clearly has the interests of the over 125 motorcyclists who have died to date in 2021, but just to place this tragedy in its proper perspective.

Between 1993, when the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) was formed, and 2012, the number of road fatalities fell from 434 to 260. A performance (40 per cent reduction) which earned this national organisation that I have had the privilege to lead since the untimely death of the founder, Sir John Golding, in 1996, local and international appreciation.

An organisation that includes, among others, ministers whose portfolio responsibilities of justice, national security, health and transport impact road safety; and which is a national body that is always headed by the prime minister.

More importantly, however, the initial success of the NRSC was the result of many stakeholders working together and tirelessly to achieve our target of BELOW 300. They include the traffic police, Transport Authority, the Road Safety Unit, the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (whose work in road safety predated the formation of the NRSC), the Emergency Medical Services of the Ministry of Health, the general insurance companies (special tribute to the late Errol Zaidie), and the banks, with the staff of the secretariat of the NRSC providing leadership and coordination.

Since this initial success, the number of road fatalities has headed north. Primarily on account of the huge increase in the number of motorcyclists who have died since 2012, moving from 46 in that year to consistently over 100 in the last few years – a phenomenon due to the vast increase in the number of motorcycles imported into the country, well known and documented in many other countries where powered two-wheelers (PTW) are the most popular form of transport.

It is therefore not surprising why motorcyclists are the category of road users who are most commonly involved in fatal and non-fatal crashes in Jamaica.

Interestingly, Dr Cary Fletcher, a bright, young orthopaedic surgeon working at St Ann’s Bay Hospital, has done excellent research on the issue. The findings on some of the problems that emerged during his investigations have been published. Speeding, non-helmet wearing and the attendant reasons, the use of alcohol and marijuana, and unlicensed and uninsured drivers figured prominently in his findings. He is now carrying out a second project, mainly to help the NRSC to better understand this phenomenon that we have been grappling with ever since 2016.

TARIQ KIDDOE’S INVOLVEMENT

Where does Tariq Kiddoe, a well-respected and accomplished motorcycle trainer, fit into this historical perspective. The NRSC, having recognised the challenge it faced in respect of the rising number of motorcyclists who were dying, reached out to Mr Kiddoe to help. He presented a well-thought-out, three-year programme attended by a budget, and we set about discussing how to execute this programme.

Unfortunately, Mr Kiddoe wished to have a number of preconditions established before he was willing to work with the NRSC. Conditions that were outside our sphere of influence at one level, and at another, beyond what we considered reasonable. So despite being in agreement in principle with the proposal, and willing to find the funding, the negotiations were eventually terminated.

Still in pursuit of a workable solution, consultations with various stakeholders, including the traffic department of the police who had trainers available, were held and an action plan devised and executed.

In addition, our international contacts responded to a request to help with dealing with the non-helmet wearing aspect of the challenge. These two elements – helmet distribution after training by experts in the police force and working along with persons from other agencies – formed the backbone of the intervention of the NRSC, in partnership with the Ministry of National Security, in Westmoreland, where most of the fatal crashes involving motorcyclists were taking place.

With what effect to date? Data provided by the Mona GeoInformatic Institute, headed Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, shows that:

1. For 2020, through to September, the figure for motorcycle crashes (M/C) and M/C-related events was 110 crashes and 120 deaths.

2. For 2021, the same period shows 126 crashes and 135 deaths.

3. For 2020, Westmoreland had 27 crashes and 28 deaths, and was the top parish overall.

4. For 2021, Westmoreland had 28 crashes and 31 deaths for the same period.

5. However, as the graphic shows, Westmoreland hasn’t gotten that much worse. Look at Manchester. But also look at the parishes that have seen declines, including Hanover.

The point here is that with limited funding and personnel, and with a focus solely on Westmoreland, the intervention by the NRSC has not yet proved to be successful. But yet no unbiased onlooker can authentically, by looking at the data, claim that the programme has been a failure. Not with Manchester, St Ann and Trelawny now responsible for most of the increase. And not Westmoreland.

Further, plans are in train, and await the conclusions of negotiations with an international partner, to secure funding to scale up rapidly, in the first instance, the number of motorcyclists wearing helmets in select parishes, including Westmoreland, and also to continue to provide training.

PM’S FOUR REQUESTS

More importantly, however, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently announcing that the World Health Organization-recommended Safe Systems Approach will now form the basis for national policy on road safety, after years of lobbying by the NRSC, doors will open up locally and internationally, and assist us in carrying out our parliamentary mandate to reduce injuries and fatalities in Jamaica.

This is one of four requests made to the PM.

The others are:

• A functioning board – names of bright, young, dedicated persons willing to serve. Jamaicans in the private sector were submitted.

• Dedicated funding to the tune of J$100 million annually.

• A work plan which will facilitate the integrated involvement of all ministry officials whose work impact road safety.

Once these other essential items have been agreed on, it will provide for the exploitation of all of what the Safe Systems Approach affords any country that has employed it successfully – safe speeds, safe roads, safe road users, safe vehicles, and an efficient post-crash system.

And on that journey, because of the unacceptable number of road fatalities that is currently causing so much carnage and grief and pain, and a potential five per cent decline in gross domestic product, all of which has overturned previous gains, all hands are needed on deck, regardless of what transpired in the past.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a functioning ticketing system and the implementation of a new Road Traffic Act before Christmas. In 2021!

Dr Lucien W. Jones, MB.BS CD, is vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.