Magic bullet – magic bullet (noun): A simple remedy to a difficult or complex problem, especially a cure for a disease. Often used to refer to a non-existent, overly simplistic remedy. Wiktionary.
A total of 482 persons died on the roads in Jamaica in 2022. This is 7 less than in 2021 and is the number predicted in a May forecast by Dr. Lucien Jones Vice Chairman of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC). In statement after statement, Dr. Jones has retained a focus on enforcement and emphasized the need for the implementation of the New Road Traffic Act and for an efficient and robust ticketing system. To be fair to him, he has also mentioned a wider perspective which includes a Safe Systems Approach to managing road safety.
A tremendous amount of hope is being pinned on the Magic Gun – The New Road Traffic Act and its Regulations, and one Magic Bullet – the revised ticketing system with increased fines, to make an immediate change in the traffic landscape. Listen to Minister of Transport Audley Shaw – “As a Government, we are committed to reduce the crashes on the nation’s roads, and with the new Road Traffic Act which has just been passed, motorists will face tough sanctions for breaching the rules.” This is a newspaper reference to a statement by the PM – Holness said it is essential that the disorder on the nation’s roads be addressed as a matter of urgency, an issue which the new Road Traffic Act will treat. A year ago, this was the voice of the PSOJ, “The PSOJ firmly believes the Road Traffic Act is a key legislative component in achieving the overall objective of public safety and order.”
In my humble view, this well intentioned emphasis on Enforcement of a New Road Traffic Act is misplaced. Many of the current laws are sound and need no further legislative crutch – yet they are not being enforced and the breaches are committed in full view of the enforcers. As an example, what else does the JCF need to enforce the wearing of helmets by motorcyclists or to conduct breathalyzer tests for alcohol impairment on a scheduled basis? We cannot deny that we have enforcement issues. In 2021, about 1/3 of the road deaths (154) occurred during curfew hours, when persons should have been off the roads.
Traffic violations in Cross Roads. Note parked Police Car.
I suspect that the magic gun will misfire and the magic bullet will miss and that next year this time, we will still be over 400 traffic fatalities, unless we see traffic management for what it is and make a serious effort to understand many of the behavioral and engineering issues which contribute to and support the high numbers. Any many of these issues are hiding in the open! It is not difficult to find a taxi operator in Half Way Tree who is smoking weed and has his plastic cup with liquor early in the morning and who may not be able to appreciate the difference between a red and a green traffic signal. It is not difficult to see vehicles being made prematurely defective by traversing through potholes on major roadways.
I have no difficulty with the Safe Systems approach and have no doubt that if properly implemented will yield good results. I hope it will not be bastardized by the enforcement giant that has overtaken the thinking of our Leadership in their efforts to improve road safety.
A report entitled Preventing Road Traffic Injuries in Jamaica Gap Analysis and Recommendations, was prepared for the National Road Safety Council by Johns Hopkins University Center for Injury Research and Policy. It had a listing of 24 Best Practice Recommendations for improving traffic safety in Jamaica. They were in the 6 categories of:
Increasing fines was one subset of the structural recommendations and was by no means the major action item of the report.
3. Vehicle safety
5. Emergency Response
6. Electronic surveillance
New York City introduced their Safe Systems Approach in 2014. The results are discussed in Vision Zero, 6 Year Report June 2020 (reference below). The report was structured into 6 sections. Some examples of sub-activities included:
1. Expanding public knowledge
2. Speed Management: adjusting speed limits, installing speed cameras
3. Engineering: Improving safety at intersections, speed cushions, creating pedestrian priority zones
4. Enforcement: focusing on acts likely to cause harm such as speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians
5. Leadership in Professional Driving: Training for taxi and limousine permit applicants, safety training for city bus operators, improving garbage truck safety, installation of audible warning system to alert pedestrians of buses turning.
6. Engagement: Safety discussions with manufacturers and suppliers of vehicles, truck eye view – having motorists understand blind spots around large vehicles.
Their self-evaluation indication a work in progress that was achieving some positive results.
On the matter of the effectiveness of summonses and ticketing, a review of Vision Zero Initiatives in New York City 2014-2021 The Impact of Vision Zero Initiatives on Road User Safety in New York City by Phares et. al. (ref below) had this to say. “A comparative trend analysis was done on the relationship between summonses issued by New York Police Department (NYPD) and traffic fatalities. It was found that law enforcement was ineffective in improving traffic safety.”
I do hope that somewhere hidden in the NRSC approach (behind the increased fines), are other approaches which aim to change behavior such as:
– Safety training in lieu for fines for first time violators for some traffic offences
– Proving an easy and anonymous way for persons to report violations
– Introducing driver instruction in schools
Target Setting. We seem to have set a current road fatality target of 300, despite the fact that in the past 20 years, we were only below 300 in the year 2012. I have not yet heard a new target from the NRSC. But while we wait for the Magic Day or March 1, 2023 when the Magic Canon will be rolled out, Regulations will be in place and PSTEB will be fully energized and tickets will be written from dusk till dawn, what else can the authorities do? My short list while we wait include:
– Start enforcing the wearing of helmets for motorcyclists. This does not need a new law to be enforced.
Celebrities on motorcycle in Jamaica
– Stop accepting that taxis can stop anywhere. Any taxi any day any time will stop in the middle of any intersection to pick up and discharge passengers. This does not need a new law to be stopped.
Taxi at corner of Suthermere and Constant Spring Road
Taxi stopped to pick up a passenger while in the right lane on Marcus Garvey Drive
– Stop accepting that there is hardly any law for Taxis and buses on Molynes and Red Hills Road. This does not need a new law to be enforced.
Taxis forming a second and third lane on Red Hills Road which is a 2 way road.
– Stop accepting that taxi drivers can leave their cars to hustle for passengers and block the left turn lane from Hope Road onto Half Way Tree Road, when the light is on green. This does not need a new law to be enforced.
– Stop accepting that Spanish Town Road, Washington Boulevard and many other roads cannot be pothole free, so that motorists do not have to be swinging around potholes. This does not need a new law to be done.
– Relocate some Bus Stops that are poorly located and which cause traffic obstructions. This does not need a new law to be done.
Satellite imagery of corner of Chesterfield Drive and Spanish Town Road. A long bus will effectively block the intersection if it stops at the designated area.
Road view of the Bus Stop above. Any vehicle at the bus stop will obstruct traffic entering onto Spanish Town Road.
– Enforce rules for buses at Three Miles, so that passengers are not discharged in unsafe areas. This does not need a new law to be done.
Passengers being discharged at the entrance of the slip road to Hagley park Road. The bus stops for city traffic are under the bridge.
– Fix the issues on Marcus Garvey Drive, so that hundreds of persons can stop playing hopscotch with high speed traffic daily. When they run past the vehicles, the next hurdle is to get over a concrete barrier without falling into the path of oncoming traffic on the other side of the barrier.
Twice a day, hundreds of persons are exposed to traffic and fall hazards on Marcus Garvey Drive.
– Revise speed limits. There are many 50 Km/h zones that could be changed to 65 Km/h without any additional safety concerns. Any there are some 50 km/h zones that should be reduced to 30 km/h – hospital and school zones.
These are some of the many things that we can start to do on January 1, 2023, without the benefit of the New Road Traffic Act. There is no intention to focus on Public Passenger Vehicle operations, but their disregard for traffic laws, their continued breaches in full view of the police, their expectation of amnesties, and their contribution to road traffic fatalities make them a group requiring special attention,
Give us vision lest we perish. Never were truer words spoken. I sincerely wish for vision for all of us, but particularly for those who will be leading the road safety effort as we go into 2023.
The Impact of Vision Zero Initiatives on Road User Safety in New York City, Alex C. Phares, West Virginia University, Md Amdad Hossen, West Virginia University, Kakan Dey, West Virginia University, https://researchrepository.wvu.edu/murr/vol6/iss1/11/
Vision Zero, 6 Year Report June 2020.
Preventing Road Traffic Injuries in Jamaica Gap Analysis and Recommendations
Source of images.
Cross Roads web cam, celebrities on motorcycle, taxi at Suthermere Road, taxis on Red Hills Road, and imagery of Chesterfield Drive are from the internet. All other images are my own.