Call issued for change of attitude and culture towards road safety
The Guyana National Road Safety Council (GNRSC) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) Traffic Department today issued a call for Guyanese to change their attitude towards road safety at a symposium held this morning at the Police Officers’ Mess, Eve Leary.
The event and award presentation for Schools Road Safety Patrols targeted mainly schoolchildren with the aim of getting them to pass the message on to the adults in their lives, with a challenge issued by Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn to reduce the road fatalities in Guyana to below 100 in 2013.
Minister Benn noted that this goal was an annual one set three years ago and statistics now show that the road fatalities are fluctuating to between 113 to 115 persons being killed annually over the last five years. He pointed out that this was tremendous progress since in 2007 there were 207 road fatalities and, notwithstanding the fact that there is now an average of 80,000 vehicles on the roads of Guyana, the fatalities have been reduced by half.
He stated that the results have come about as a result of improvement in enforcement, principally through revamping of the laws by the GPF Traffic Department and the introduction of breathalyzer tests and initiatives with respect to speeding and driving while distracted.
Minister Benn however, posited that, “we cannot rest on our laurels,” and added that the effort at reminding the public of road safety, traffic and paying attention to safety overall is important at this time when there is an increasing number of activities on the roads with respect to traffic.
Noting that Guyana is ranked number four in the Caribbean with respect to road deaths, he said that Trinidad has already registered 167 road fatalities. The Minister observed that notwithstanding, the efforts to improve the traffic infrastructure, “the more important thing is that we have to keep focused on education and in changing the culture and behaviour of our road users.”
He explained that through the constant reaching out to schools through their Traffic Safety Associations, a direct link is made with parents and persons who may take the children to school. Minister Benn said that those persons who may interface with children in this manner “can have a sharp reminder, because particularly when a child reminds a father or an adult that they may be doing something that is improper with respect to road usage it comes home in a more direct manner.”
The Minister commended the interaction of stakeholders to form such a link with the principal road users. He urged the schoolchildren present to “interface with your parents, with persons who may be driving the vehicle in which you are, to say to them where they might have done something wrong while on the road or while you were in the vehicle that makes you feel unsafe, and that you may need to come out of the vehicle.”
Minister Benn also encouraged them to have the bravery and the assertiveness to speak to people on improper use of the road.
The Public Works Minister also pointed out that it does not matter how many millions of dollars are spent in improving road infrastructure, if there is improper use of the roads and the fatalities do not go down.
He threw out the challenge to reduce road fatalities in 2013 to the Mini-bus Association, School Safety Patrols and Traffic Police, the Ministry of Public Works and individual operators and road users.
Minister Benn stated that this record could only be achieved if persons recognise that, “road safety is a personal responsibility in the first instance, and that we have to collaborate with all the agencies, to educate and engage with all the stakeholders with respect to this effort.”
He however, noted that the task would be difficult with still more vehicles coming on the road leading to more travelling, and visiting along with increased economic activities.
Minister Benn also warned the students that one of the things that has to be looked for is the male person, who uses the road more and drives more. Statistics show that up to 85% of all persons killed on the road are young males, many of whom are poorly trained or get into trouble through impaired driving, either while drunk or driving under drugs or driving while distracted.
“It is important for us to get to young male drivers with respect to changing the culture, their appreciation, understanding, personal responsibility and responsibility too for the person they take and transport for their own safety, and what they have to do for us to have a changed behaviour, a change in the culture, a change in the results we are seeing. “
He suggested a discussion with stakeholders to make a decision on how to achieve the desired results.
“Minibus parks where people drink and drive, take drugs and drive, get aggressive and almost in a ferocious mood drive off…all of these things lead to impaired driving and put the society and persons in the vehicle and other road users at risk…Many of our people who use the road in Guyana, do so in an unsafe environment in a culture of impunity, of being contemptuous to other road users, not being courteous, being insolent to the police, … This is the culture which we have to change and the only way we can have a change in this culture is we have to set our goals, we have to communicate the change we want to happen…we have to accept that we can improve, that we will improve and that we want to improve.”
Minister Benn commended the efforts of all the stakeholders who contributed to the reduction of road fatalities, including Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee for legislation, the road safety associations, Mothers in Black and other organisations for the constant reminders and keeping the issue in focus. He also commended the traffic police and urged them to continue their enforcement.
Nigel Erskine, Chairman of the GNRSC urged the students to apply what they have learnt when they use the road as the loss of young lives is a tragedy all must try to ensure doesn’t happen.
Lucille Bacchus who lost her two children on the roadways during road safety month, reminded the students that road safety continues every day and begins with them. She urged them to make a difference whenever they are travelling, to let drivers know when they are wrong and urged them to report wrong doings by drivers.
Traffic Chief, Asst. Commander Brian Joseph likewise urged children to report wrongdoings and to take to take vehicle numbers. He also cautioned them about their own road use noting that a great number of them do not use the pedestrian crossings near the schools; and also cautioned them about the use of cell phones while using the road.
The GNRSC was presented with 20 Stop paddles to be given to schools with Road Safety Patrols who have been trained. The paddles were presented by the Guyana Trinidad Mutual Life Insurance Company Ltd.
Presentations were also made to the two schools which topped the Schools Safety Patrol Competition which began in 2011 and is still ongoing. For 2012 the first prize went to the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School while the Tucville Secondary School took second place. North Ruimveldt teacher Kirwyn Mars received an award for being the Best School Safety Patrol Teacher for 2012.