Why are so many Jamaicans still dying on our roads?

We love roads. We are continuously building new ones. More concrete, oil consumption, noise, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution are definitely the way to go, it appears.

The mindset seems to be: Let’s try to get from A to B faster! It’s so important to get from, say, Kingston to Mandeville in an hour rather than an hour and fifteen minutes. Let’s go! This is development!

We are looking forward to the Montego Bay Bypass (which will be ploughing through a wetlands area), the Port Antonio Bypass (why on earth do we need one – it’s a small town?) and the widening of Lady Musgrave Road in uptown Kingston into a four-lane urban highway (just what the community and residents do not need, but their wishes are largely overlooked). Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a major package of road-building in his long Budget Speech on Thursday (March 17).

A pedestrian takes her life in her hands trying to cross Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston. Our road “improvements” are not improving the lives of non-drivers. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Yes, we are all in love with the private motor vehicle. It takes priority over citizens: pedestrians and pedal cyclists, and whether they are senior citizens, schoolchildren, Jamaicans with disabilities. Our public transport “system” is unsafe and dirty. No matter; whoever is unfortunate enough not to own a car will have to do the best they can.

So, there are many downsides to this glorification of the highway.

I wish the Prime Minister, who chairs the National Road Safety Council, was as engaged on the topic of road safety as he is on building and ribbon-cutting for new roads, bypasses and highways. I would love to see him as a strong advocate (more than the occasional speech on formal occasions).

Over 100 people have died on our roads already this month (102 to be precise). And we must not forget the lives ruined by many injured who are suffering and incurring huge costs to our health sector. Road traffic deaths increased by 12 percent last year compared to 2020. A staggering total of 483 men, women and children were not here to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their families.

Speeding is a huge problem on certain roads. Two hotel workers were killed in this crash near Ironshore, St. James, last year. Western Jamaica is an area of particular concern for road crashes. (Photo: RJR)

The Prime Minister also announced the removal of curfews and other COVID-19 limitations on Friday, March 18. Perhaps coincidentally, on that same day there were several car crashes, resulting in the deaths of five people. It began with 32-year-old Shevon Tugman, a deliveryman, who died that morning from injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle crash along the Pepper main road in St Elizabeth. He “lost control” of the vehicle (which usually means he was speeding) and crashed into a tree.

On the same day, a U.S. citizen was killed when he “lost control” again and crashed into a motor truck on the Point Hill main road near Hopewell, Hanover. His two fellow U.S. citizens and four occupants of the truck were all rushed to hospital, badly injured.

A young man named Kenroy Smith was driving a Toyota Mark X (the make of car seems particularly important to some social media commentators) with his girlfriend, a 20-year-old Instagram personality named Lexi, when he crashed on Friday evening on the North Coast Highway, which as I have said before, is a race track and potential death trap at any time of day or night. The couple both died; they were apparently on their way to a party. The third victim was Chris Codner, aged 30, who was driving a tourist bus into which the car crashed. Three tourists were hospitalized. Gruesome videos were circulated on social media from just after the crash (Why? Stop doing this please!)

Poor young Lexi was killed in a car crash on Friday evening along with her boyfriend and another young man driving a tourist bus.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) recognizes the importance of road safety and the terrible toll on Jamaica’s roads. In a recent press release, it noted that its Public Safety Monitoring Committee’s latest communiqué points out that the three major targets in the Road Safety section are all “off track”: Motorcycle Fatality Reducation, Improved Public Order and Road Safety Nationally; and Improved Public Order and Road Safety specifically in the Western Region (St. James, Westmoreland, and Hanover).

Importantly, the Regulations for the Road Traffic Act, passed in Parliament in December 2018, must be in place as soon as possible. Without the Regulations (which were tabled in Parliament on February 1, 2022 by the new Transport Minister Audley Shaw), the Act is toothless and cannot be implemented. I do hope it is on the front burner.

Five people were killed in this minibus crash on Highway 2000 last year. (Photo: Nicholas Nunes/Jamaica Gleaner)

ROAD SAFETY MUST BE ADDRESSED TO BOLSTER PUBLIC ORDER 

Kingston, Jamaica – 16 March 2022: The PSOJ Public Safety Monitoring Committee maintains its call for urgent action and priority to be taken in addressing road traffic fatalities and indiscipline on the roads. 

This call follows the Report provided by the Ministry of National Security for the period ending December 2021 which revealed a 12% increase in road fatalities with 483 road fatalities when compared to 433 road fatalities in 2020. 

Even as the Committee welcomes the completion of key targets including the Traffic Ticket Management System’s pilot programme; it must be placed within the context of additional legislative support required to adequately penalise traffic offenders and more importantly deterring this behaviour. 

The PSOJ continues its call to the Ministry of Transport and Mining for the formal inclusion of the enabling of the Road Traffic Act as a monitored process within the MOU, even as we note the failure to meet the targets to reduce road fatalities in 2021.

The various targets by the Road Safety Council chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness have been frustrated by the failure to conclude the regulations and have them passed in the Houses of Parliament. The Government has a responsibility to ensure that the targets established in the Public Safety Framework for Road Safety are not only clearly outlined but can also be implemented through provision of adequate resources and legislative support.

We welcomed the completion of the Traffic Ticket Management System’s online portal and the rollout of the pilot phase in the Kingston & St Andrew region at the close of last year. The Committee looks forward to its wider expansion across the region and the critical onboarding of the online portal on an appropriate GoJ website. 

Achieving public safety and order requires a multi-sectoral approach with equal commitment in meeting the targets outlined and we plead with the Government to ensure that proactive steps are taken to address the areas that have fallen off-track, particularly the reduction in motorcycle collisions and road fatalities.

The PSOJ Public Safety Monitoring Committee continues to monitor the targets established for the Traffic Ticket Management System, National Surveillance Programme – JamaicaEye, Noise Abatement Regulation and Road Safety. 

The scene of a fatal road crash earlier this year. Speeding is a recurring factor. (Photo: Loop News)

6 thoughts on “Why are so many Jamaicans still dying on our roads?

  1. Possibly, one of the most impotent campaigns witnessed since my return to Jamaica in 2013. You cannot reduce crashes & accidents on roads without completely overhauling how road users approach roads. 1. Drivers must understand roads are for sharing, not personal domains. That means better understanding of speed, distancing, road etiquette, etc. But that change of behaviour must be accompanied by harsh punishment for transgressions. Not talk about fines, then repeated amnesties! Sieze vehicles. Sanction drivers. Ensures licensing system is absolutely clean and free from chicanery. PPV DRIVERS/OWNERS MUST BE CALLED TO ACCOUNT. 2. Pedestrians must get due presences. In most developed countries (US, UK, EU for sure) drivers MUST YIELD to pedestrians crossing, especially on designated crosswalks. Drivers in Jamaica slow down or stop for pedestrians at their peril, as most following drivers just barrel past. 3. Pedestrians must also change behaviour: roads cannot be crossed at will, wherever and whenever. Sidewalks and better crossing areas would help, but aren’t enough.

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    1. Behaviour change will not fix the problem if roads continue to be designed to encourage said behaviours. Roads in jamaica are inherently unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists, and facilitate faster and more reckless driving. We are adopting the american model of development (the same model that many cities around the world are now turning away from;) wider roads, more lanes, no or unprotected sidewalks, even no crosswalks. Pedestrians have no choice but to risk their lives on these roads, or to get a taxi (which isnt really safer given our accident rates.) This problem is nested withing a larger problem of our urban development philosophy, or rather a lack of any philosophy as to how our roads should be designed to make it better for everyone. We as a nation are paying the price of poor development, and in keeping with our national tendency to follow (not lead,) it seems we will only fix these problems after our north american big brother does the same.

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      1. Your summary of the US road development model is incorrect. It has free-flowing, multilane roads mainly between urban centres; pedestrians aren’t supposed to use these routes. In urban areas, if such roads exist, there are always multiple points of designated crossings for pedestrians, mostly controlled by lights, with OBLIGATORY RIGHT OF WAY FOR PEDESTRIANS. Otherwise, roads are of lower volumes but the same principle applies. In urban areas and most suburban subdivisions, sidewalks are mandatory, unless traffic density is low or semi-rural nature of area makes this less applicable; in rural areas, sidewalks are limited as are controlled crossings. The basic tenet is separation of vehicular and pedestrian flows, or independent movement of both. Jamaica’s model has no consistent provisions for pedestrians. Moreover, on roads where pedestrians are not supposed to be, it’s common to see them using eg highways as pedestrian thoroughfares with impunity. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

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  2. Sad but new roads are always popular for politicians – jobs generated while building them and nanoseconds saving time… My dad taught me long ago that the difference in driving 60-70 mph ended up saving about 15 minutes in a 50 mile drive… not worth the effort and stress…

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