It has been statistically shown that during the past five years, the number of fatalities and injuries associated with road accidents are steadily increasing.
Fatalities due to road incidents have now reached a grand total of 181 (1999), significantly greater than its total, five years ago, in 1995, which was 105. Since 1995, road deaths have increased by an average of 14 people per year. This type of carnage impedes the positive growth of our country and needs to be stopped.
I think the most important factor that needs to be looked at in our goal to sustainable development is social responsibility. That is, drivers need to have a responsible attitude and a level of maturity when given this privilege.
The attitude of drivers plays a major role in road safety. Drivers need to be cautious, and sensitive to all the rules and safety regulations of the road. Safe habits need to be adopted and practised constantly. Drivers must take responsibility for their condition at all times. For example, if some external stimuli affects normal bodily activities, such as normal vision or normal reaction time, for example, alcohol or drugs, drivers should not drive. Drivers who feel sick, tired, or upset should also not drive during these periods. If drivers use corrective lenses, these should always be worn. All these are elements of “social responsibility”. It must be understood by all drivers that driving is the privilege of mature, responsible individuals who need to recognise that things such as these are potentially dangerous, if not taken seriously.
Road rules such as speed limits and no parking zones also need to be strictly adhered to by drivers. Due to drivers disobeying these simple rules, they significantly increase the risk of accidents and make it difficult for other drivers in the process. Typical examples of drivers practising very unsafe habits in Trinidad are drivers who cut people off in traffic, because they are in a hurry and drivers who make sudden lane changes or attempt to outrun yellow lights.
Drivers however are not the only ones to be blamed. Drivers cannot effectively drive safely in unsafe conditions. For this reason, next in line of importance when addressing safety on roads is general infrastructure of the country.
Roads should be properly maintained in order to function safely and efficiently as means of allowing transport to take place. Impediments on roads cause drivers to lose control over their vehicles and force drivers to make illegal moves. If impediments such as potholes, stones, tree branches etc. are present drivers would need to infringe upon traffic flowing in the opposite direction in order to pass. Should these impediments be remedied, roads will be made safer to a significant degree. Maintenance of infrastructure should also include properly functioning lights on roadsides for night drivers and properly maintained street signs and traffic directing arrows. Many accidents are caused
due to improperly lighted streets. Drivers are unable to see oncoming vehicles in time and thus collide. Some streets have improperly functioning lights while some street have no lights at all. This is a major safety breach. A great many accidents are similarly caused by vandalised or missing street signs. Drivers who are familiar with signless routes will tend to drive at a confident speed while unsuspecting novice drivers to the same route might turn to go the wrong way on a one way street and this could result in loss of lives. Good infrastructure is a necessity in the area of safe driving.
Areas of congestion are also common key locations of road injuries. Congestion tempts drivers to make illegal and dangerous turns, violate road laws and also provides temptations such as overtaking in critical areas, such as intersections, which is definitely harmful and dangerous.
Problems such as these can be solved by the introduction of traffic wardens in key locations who will regulate the passage of vehicles and thus ensure a smooth, freely flowing line of traffic which avoids putting temptation before drivers.
Another alternative is making aware to the public, other routes which enable drivers to reach the same destination. This will altogether avoid the problem of congestion and reduce harmful road incidents.
Sometimes, congestion is caused by avoidable reasons such as too many businesses located in a specific area, or cars which are parked on roadsides preventing free flow of traffic, or even roadside vendors, crowding into streets, blocking vehicles. Surveillance is an answer to this situation. If the reason for the traffic buildups are determined and fixed, petty road injuries can be thus avoided. For example, decentralisation can be undertaken if the problem lies with too many businesses. However, only after surveillance can this possible solution be diagnosed.
To prevent congestion also, parking meters should be introduced – not to force but to provide a gentle reminder that parking on roadsides constricts free traffic flow, although where they may have parked would be legal, it does increase the probability of road accidents.
Laws restricting drivers to safe practices should be implemented. Although there are already some, extremely strict adherance to these laws should be observed in order to groom drivers to safe practices and to make them consciously aware that there may be more than one consequence of speeding or drunk driving. Additionally, in the minds of some drivers, much unclarity exists about some of the signs, practices and speed limits observed in different areas of the country. When a driver is pulled over therefore, pamphlets and booklets on safe driving and road rules should be issued to them in addition to the fin e that they would be required to pay. It would also be a good idea that whenever a driver is pulled over because of speeding etc. that he should attend a safety
driving course. Thus, if safe driving habits are not practised on the roads, practice of these safe habits in the course which they will need to tediously attend, every time they are caught offending the road laws, will, by default make those skills habitual.
Spot checks should also be more frequently done. These checks should not only be centered on looking for sober drivers or on looking for protective safety belts installed on cars but should also include quick checks on the vehicle itself to ensure that it is in good working condition to be allowed on the roads. Functioning lights, good tyres, good brakes, and darkness of tint on vehicles should all be looked at because it is also these things that lead to accidents. Improperly functioning brakes have been known to have caused many accidents which could have been avoided.
It is common belief that new drivers are the cause of the majority of road deaths. While I do not believe this, I think a compulsory defensive driving course should be taken before new drivers are allowed on roads to help with road safety.
Finally, the non-driving population should be quite sensitive and co-operative to the needs of the driving population. For example, pedestrians should not suddenly dart across or walk very slowly across busy roadways, but should observe road rules just as closely as should a driver. People should also not allow their animals to run loose in areas of busy roads. These animals tend to distract drivers and make them lose control of the vehicle by dashing into the vehicles’ path. People should therefore have control over the roaming areas of their pets.
In conclusion, the practice of road safety rules and regulations at all times is a must for all drivers, regardless of age, in order that people do not lose their lives in this most tragic manner.