I have attended two thought-provoking seminars this month, on the topic of road safety, in the Caribbean and Jamaican contexts. The first was a Caribbean Road Safety Workshop, hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on August 8 and 9, which was attended and supported by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, Mr. Jean Todt. I am planning to write more on this topic; I have learned so much, over the past few weeks, but there is so much to know about and consider. So much to work out, unpack, unravel.
Then Mr. Kenute Hare of the Road Safety Unit kindly invited me to attend the First International Symposium on Traffic Crash Investigation and Black Box Analysis, which was hosted by the Caribbean Maritime Institute from August 26 – 28. Mr. Hare’s official title is Senior Director of Transport Policy at the Ministry of Transport and Mining. He lives, and breathes, road safety. And, by the way, ethics.
Here are a few thoughts I had on the subject and decided to express at the opening of the Symposium, which was extremely well attended by Jamaicans as well as Caribbean nationals (including Barbadians, who were slightly nervous about Tropical Storm Dorian – on the first day). So, on a hot, breezy Monday morning, Mr. Hare was at the table and gave the keynote speech; also present was the then head of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Assistant Commissioner Bishop Dr. Gary Welsh (who was removed from that position on Tuesday afternoon following his controversial remarks). Mr. Maleek Powell, a wonderful young man who had recently lost his sister in a crash also spoke. So did Andrew Witham, who is Post Security Manager at the British High Commission in Kingston, and Ms. Alana Fook, Transport Sector Representative at the IDB.
Anyway, here is what I said. I will be writing more about aspects of these two important meetings in subsequent posts. This does tie in with what I wrote on my Gleaner Blog (Social Impact) some weeks ago. You can find that article here.
My Remarks at the First International Symposium on Traffic Crash Investigation and Black Box Analysis
Monday, August 26, 2019
Good morning. I am honoured to be here in such distinguished company, and I would like to thank Mr. Kenute Hare of the Road Safety Unit for inviting me.
I am a writer. I like words.
Here is a word, which seems appropriate as the “Back to School” season begins. Each letter in this word is a priority item for me, and I hope we can consider these points over the next two days. The word is:
T for…Technology: We do not only need more and better technology. We need well-trained professionals to use it responsibly and fairly. It is a mere tool. We must use it properly and ethically.
E for…Enforcement: Why do motorists continually, deliberately break the law? Because they know that most of the time, they can get away with it. There is a word called impunity. Let’s try enforcing the law. Impartially and ethically.
A for…Action: We have been talking and talking. We have unearthed many solutions. We know the challenges. Let us do something! And PR is not “action.” Good PR illuminates actions that have already been taken. Inaction is literally killing us.
C for…Corruption: The proverbial “elephant in the room.” Why do we ignore it? Don’t we know that, for example, police officers own taxi cabs (and minibuses I believe?) and that they are “given a bly”? Don’t we know that some drivers still “let off” – or are given special treatment because of their social status? Yes, we know these things. No strategy will work unless we deal with corruption.
H for…Humanity: We are all human. We need to take into account how people feel using the road – not only the motorist but also the pedestrian, the person with disabilities, the senior citizen, the small child, the cyclist. Yes, we humans feel angry, stressed, frustrated. We feel afraid and nervous (especially women, who are intimidated on a daily basis). We wonder if it will be our turn next.
E for…Empathy: We need to focus on the victims. We need spokespersons who will speak up about the lifetime of suffering that a couple of minutes of “bad driving” can cause. We need to talk to young people who will spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair. We need to talk to the bereaved family members, who have lost their beloved sister or husband, perhaps the person who is the breadwinner for the family. People’s lives are torn apart!
R is for…Respect: I believe that if we start treating each other with respect on the roads, it may permeate through society to create a gentler, kinder Jamaica that we can all live in. Respect is not a one way street.
A Canadian friend visited recently. Some people had warned her about crime. When she got home, she tweeted that she was much more afraid of the roads!
Finally, one letter did not fit into that word. It is L. L for Leadership.
Leadership must embody all the letters in the word TEACHER.
What are some key elements of leadership?
I have around 20 years’ experience in the field of communication. For me, proper communication is key.
The issue of road safety is too serious to limit communications to videos, handshakes, speeches, memes and hashtags. They have their place, but in moderation. Meanwhile, let’s face it – they are not working. They will continue not to work. We need much more.
I am a blogger. I spend a lot of time on social media. I suggest that ALL our leaders (not only political ones) tune in, listen, and understand what is really going on in society. It is not a pretty picture, and our roads are a reflection of that.
Leadership is also about teamwork. One person cannot do it all. The widest possible network should be brought on board, including civil society. It is not up to one policeman, or one politician, to solve these issues. We must do it together.
Leadership is about setting an example. That example should embody clear directions, clear communications, no mixed signals, fixity of purpose, consistency and long term vision.
And for those who believe that fighting crime is more important than road safety: Do they not understand the nexus?
After all, criminals use our roads all day, every day.
So do innocent, law-abiding Jamaican citizens.
P.S. The crime/road safety nexus: American serial killer Ted Bundy was arrested by a Highway Patrol officer in 1975 for speeding in the early hours of morning.
The Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh was arrested in 1995 by a Highway Patrol officer for driving a car with no license plate and no insurance.