It should not surprise anyone that road deaths in Jamaica for 2019 have already topped the 400 mark. Last year the death toll was 389, and there are more cars and motorcycles on the road now than ever before.
Recent data are hard to come by, but it is reported that in December 2015, about 190,000 motor vehicles were registered to drive on Jamaican roads. The number must be well over 200,000 by now. In 2005, about 154,000 cars were reported to be on our roads. Pretty soon, we will have a quarter of a million vehicles on Jamaican roads! Where will Jamaica’s road deaths be then?
By itself, more vehicles on the road would not imply more road deaths; there are other factors to consider.
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – about half as large as Jamaica – has almost twice as many vehicles on their roads (about 397,000 in December 2015); but in 2018, that twin-island state recorded 96 road fatalities – their lowest since 1958.
The small island of Barbados, with 110,000 units on their roads in December 2015 (only 80,000 less than us!), had a grand total of 16 road deaths in 2017.
The difference in road death totalities between Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados has to do with the temperament of the drivers, and the traffic laws in place.
I have driven extensively all across the Caribbean, and I find that Jamaican drivers are by far the most aggressive, and the most indisciplined. Our taxi drivers are in a class by themselves.
A quick Internet search does not turn up reports of individual Trini or Bim taxi drivers accumulating 700 and 1,000 unpaid traffic tickets. Clearly, Jamaica’s loopholy ticketing law was poorly drafted and the hustlers we have as taximen have chosen to exploit it.
It is my impression that of the three Caribbean nations, obtaining a driver’s licence without taking a test is easiest in Jamaica, as is obtaining a motor vehicle fitness certificate without the vehicle actually being inspected. This is the result of corruption and poor governance. Should some Jamaican official or series of officials from both political parties be impeached for allowing this death-dealing dereliction of duty to continue over decades?
SOMETHING PATHOLOGICALLY WRONG Let us look at a much larger twin-island state: the United Kingdom. For the year ending June 2018, there were 1,770 road deaths (more than four times the absolute number in Jamaica); but there are some 32.5 million passenger cars on the road there – more than 160 times the number in Jamaica.
Clearly, there is something pathologically wrong with Jamaican drivers, and how Jamaican governments have been managing the traffic situation.
By implementing appropriate people-moving policies, what the UK has done is to make it quicker and cheaper for commuters to take public transportation (underground or above-ground rail, and buses) rather than to drive a personal car to work, which is safer. It is a win-win-win: less traffic on the roads, less road deaths, and a lower fossil-fuel bill.
On the other hand, what successive Jamaican governments have done is pander to populism by facilitating the importation of tens of thousands of private cars, and the building out of expensive road infrastructure to accommodate them. Why are we then surprised when our increasing dependence on imported fossil fuels is driving us deeper into debt?
Right now, we are unable to adequately maintain Jamaica’s extensive islandwide road and bridge infrastructure: potholes, break-aways and landslides develop with every shower of rain. Will we be able to afford to maintain, in even fair condition, all this new road infrastructure we have borrowed money to build?
We can build the hardware, but we cannot socialise our citizens to be disciplined as they use these new roads and bridges. As usual, our politicians talk big on economics, but are deficient at sociology; hence lives lost to poor education, lives lost to runaway crime, and lives lost to indiscipline on our roads.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to [email protected] .
LINK ORIGINAL: Jamaica Gleaner