Dr. Lucien Jones is Vice Chair and Convenor of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), which is chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Dr. Jones must sometimes feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, on the terrible numbers of Jamaicans (close to 500 last year!) killed on our roads – but he never gives up. We know this is a complex issue, with various contributing factors.
Indeed, there have been many speeches, high-level events, seminars, presentations, brain-storming sessions, meetings both public and private… We must have examined the issue from every possible angle, with support from several international organisations. I have written about it numerous times and there has been quite a bit of media coverage (possibly not enough) on the root causes of the problem – and solutions. Remember we are not only talking about Jamaicans, young and old, rich and poor, whose lives have been suddenly and horribly snuffed out – and their grieving families. There is the enormous strain on the health system, and the cost of treating the thousands of injured people every year, who may never recover from their injuries and will require lifelong treatment and therapy (for their physical and perhaps mental health). There is a great deal of suffering. Yet it is hardly treated as a health issue, at all.
The one piece of good news I do have to report is that Dr. Jones, Mr. Earl Jarrett (Chair of the Jamaica Automobile Association) and the NRSC team met with the new Minister of Transport and Mining, Audley Shaw on January 27. The Minister revealed that the regulations of the new Road Traffic Act are now ready and will go to Cabinet next Monday, January 31 – following which they will proceed to Parliament for discussion and confirmation. Parliament has already approved amendments to the fixed penalties section of the Act, in November 2021. Please note: The “new” Road Traffic Act, which will repeal and replace the existing 1938 Act, was passed in the House of Representatives in February, 2018 – four years ago!
Anyway, Dr. Jones has shared his thoughts in full below (I highlighted some parts myself). Dear Dr. Jones, I do hope “something dramatic happens”! And a concerted “all hands on deck” effort is certainly needed.
I have decided to write a letter to the nation in my capacity as Vice Chairman and Convenor of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC). And, more importantly, on behalf of the hundreds of persons (482 died in 2021) who are projected to die (480) on our roads this year! This is the stark reality based on very accurate projections for 2021, from the outgoing head of the Mona Geoinformatics Institute, Dr. Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr. Unless, in his now haunting reminder, “something dramatic happens”. Another year of mourning and grief awaits hundreds of Jamaicans, based on discussions held at a review meeting recently!
The reality is that the Jamaican society faces three main challenges this year. The Three C’s, which have been the subject of much discussion on social media and elsewhere: Crime, Corona and Crashes! So far the nation – Government, Civil Society, the Private Sector and Church – has placed a focus on the first two, with the Minister of Finance allocating significant resources to help with Crime and the Pandemic; and quite rightly so. However, despite the significant surge in fatalities for 2021, up from 432 in 2020, to 482 in 2021, the NRSC has not been the recipient of much attention or received any additional funds or tools to help reduce the second leading cause of violent deaths in the nation. Road Fatalities!
Therefore, how do we ensure that “something dramatic happens,” in 2022 in order that another 480 are not “gone too soon” because of Road Fatalities. And thousands more are not severely injured! Might I suggest the following:
1. That because from all accounts, looking at good data from other countries – and as ACP McKenzie, head of the Traffic arm of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) pointed out in our recent review meeting – excessive speeding is the #1 problem causing fatal and non-fatal injuries on our roads, that issue should attract our attention in a significant way. In that context then, I hope that the scheduled Speed Enforcement Webinar organized by the NRSC (where an executive of The Global Road Safety Partnership, working in association with a leading figure from the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit, will address a large number of members of the JCF), will go well. I hope it will help to add further knowledge and expertise to the Traffic Enforcement arm of the JCF. It is my further hope that – as promised at the recent review session, during which the Police presented data which drew applause from both us locals and the senior member of the international road safety community who attended the meeting – they will deliver on the promise to improve the effectiveness of the enforcement carried out by JCF.
Finally, in this section, a word about the usefulness of the breathalyzer system, and the critical role that this instrument will have to play going forward as we await the provision of other tools. We have agreed that, as obtains in other jurisdictions, where up to 30% of drivers who are involved in fatal crashes have been found to be driving under the influence of alcohol, we in Jamaica should aim to replicate this data, and then enforce; unless of course Jamaicans are less likely to be drinking and driving than is the case elsewhere. An unlikely scenario! Especially based on high quality data provided, and published, by original research done by Dr. Cary Fletcher of the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital.
2. That even if the JCF were to operate under maximum efficiency, without an effective deterrent system the anticipated reduction in fatalities and the plan to improve order on our roads would only be a dream. In this context then, we await, and encourage the Jamaican Government to act speedily to ensure that the long awaited and much discussed implementation of the new Road Traffic Act, takes place by early February. This along with a fully functional Demerit Points System and an improved Ticketing System, which constitute an effective Deterrent System, would make a huge difference and possibly be the “dramatic change“ needed to reduce the carnage on our roads. The reality, however, was admitted by the Minister of National Security recently, during the public launch of an improvement in one aspect of the Ticketing System – Electronic Signing of Tickets: Whatever happens now will take some time to have an effect on how people drive on our roads. However, we hope that with a new Minister of Transport, who has agreed to meet with the NRSC shortly, will come renewed commitment and new energy and political will, to make “ something dramatic happen.”
3. That as we give thanks that the policy recommended by the World Health Organization, the Safe Systems Approach to Road Safety, which has been adopted by the Chairman of the NRSC, Hon. Andrew Holness, PM, we seek urgently to take advantage of the many benefits that the system provides. (A) Safe Speeds. (B) Safe Roads. (C) Safe Vehicles. (D) Safe Road Users. (E) An Efficient Post Crash System. In respect of Safe Roads and Safe Roads, we await the response of the National Works Agency to the comprehensive evaluation of the “ Bad Spots” identified by the Police, highlighted in Dr. Parris’ Crash Map; and the recommendations made, which if implemented could make a big difference – better road markings, better lighting, more road signs, fixing of potholes. All of which could constitute or at least contribute to the “something dramatic happening.”
Further, we await the response and further discussions needed, between the NWA and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which sent a request/directive for the rehabilitation of “white roads” on the North Coast Highway, so that many of the crashes taking place on these roads may become a thing of the past. We need a comprehensive evaluation of all our roads to ensure, as recommended by WHO, that at the very least we have three star roads in our network. In respect of Safe Road Users, it is our hope that the Action Plan on Motorcyclists presented by the NRSC to the PM, and actioned, may continue to bear fruit in Westmoreland where it has started, after being sidelined temporarily by COVID. And in the case of Pedestrians, that we move from meetings to an Action Plan which can be presented to the PM and actioned. In respect of Safe Vehicles, the buzz in the International Community is the significant role that new technologies in the braking system, both ABS and ESC, have been playing in significantly reducing fatalities and injuries, especially with respect to Motorcyclists. The possibility of “Something dramatic happening”!
On the Health side and the Emergency Response to crashes, the absolute need for this facility was demonstrated just last week with the very efficient response to the crash where 24 persons were injured and one died. In addition the International Community is recommending, and we are in full agreement, that Injury Data should be tracked as well as Fatality Data. Hopefully this will be an agenda item for 2022 for the Minister of Health and Wellness and his team.
4. That, given the huge numbers of motorcyclists who died in 2021 – 163, up significantly from 2020 – the NRSC will continue to place a focus on the reduction in the fatalities and injuries in that category of road users. We are mindful however that the combination of private motor car drivers and passengers, who are dying on our roads, presents a major challenge. In this respect the NRSC has secured initial funding from a major International charity to start a project targeting motorcyclists and helmet wearing specifically, which also seeks generally to increase the involvement of civil society and the private sector in promoting road safety as a national priority.
5. Finally the World Health Organization, which issued a Road Safety Technical Package for all countries about five years ago, placed a high priority on the Lead Agency – which in our case is the NRSC – and its ability to manage the process effectively. It is in this context, and for this reason, why the NRSC has been consistent in arguing for a dedicated fund to the tune of J$100 million to improve our capacity: additional staff, to fund at least two high quality Public Education Campaigns annually, and additions to the management team, so that we can be more effective in both advocacy and implementation.Dr. Lucien Jones, Vice Chairman, National Road Safety Council
As I close, it is my hope that this public letter will encourage civil society, church, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the media, to help the Government to place a high priority on Road Crashes in 2022, in the same way, and with very good reasons, that crime and the pandemic caused by the CoronaVirus, have attracted national attention, dialogue and significant resources. For with over 480 persons expected to die this year, and on January 23, 28 have already perished, unless “something dramatic happens”, the traffic police, as willing and as capable as they are, cannot be expected by themselves to perform miracles. However with a national support, and not only government, as important a role it has to play, we are assured that 2022 will be a better year for road safety than 2021. But we have to start soon, as for those expected to die, “time is running out”.
Dr. Lucien w. Jones MB.BS.CD
National Road Safety Council