Roughly 85% of the persons killed on the road are young men and many of them who are behind the wheel are improperly trained or impaired due to drug or alcohol use.
The startling statistic was released at the award presentation for Schools Road Safety Patrols, held on Monday at the Police Officers’ Mess, Eve Leary, where Transport Minister Robeson Benn warned students to look out for men, who are the predominant users of the road and drivers.
“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,” Benn was quoted as saying by the Government Information Agency (GINA).
He said many of the young male drivers are poorly trained or get into trouble through impaired driving, either through drug or alcohol use and driving while distracted. “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,” he was also reported as saying.
Guyana is ranked number four in the Caribbean with respect to road deaths, according to Benn, who said that despite efforts to improve the traffic infrastructure, maintaining a focus on education and in changing the culture and behaviour of our road users is more important.
He pointed out that over the last five years, road fatalities have fluctuated between 113 and 115 persons annually, representing an almost 50% drop in the figure in 2007, when there were 207 road fatalities. This development, he noted, occurred although there is now an average of 80,000 vehicles on the roads of Guyana. For this, Benn credited improvement in enforcement through revamping of the laws by the Guyana Police Force’s Traffic Department and the introduction of breathalyzer tests and initiatives with respect to speeding and driving while distracted.
GINA said Benn, however, cautioned that “we cannot rest on our laurels” and added that the effort at reminding the public about road safety remains important at this time, when there are an increasing number of vehicles and activities on the roadways.
He issued a challenge to the Mini-bus Association, School Safety Patrols and Traffic Police, the Ministry of Public Works and individual operators and road users to work towards reducing the road fatalities in Guyana to below 100 in 2013. He, however, added 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.”
Benn, according to GINA, 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.”
He explained that through the constant reaching out to schools through the 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.”
He also encouraged the schoolchildren to have the bravery and the assertiveness to speak to people on improper use of the road.
GINA said the event targeted mainly schoolchildren, with the aim of getting them to pass the road safety message on to the adults in their lives.
In addition to Benn’s urgings, Nigel Erskine, Chairman of the Guyana National Road Safety Council (GNRSC), urged the students to apply what they have learnt when they use the road, while saying the loss of young lives is a tragedy all must try to avoid.
Lucille Bacchus, who lost her two children on the roadways during road safety month, was present and 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 to report wrongdoings by drivers.
Traffic Chief, Assistant Commander of Police Brian Joseph likewise urged children to report wrongdoings and to take to take vehicle numbers. He also cautioned them about their own road use, pointing out that a great number of them do not use the pedestrian crossings near the schools. Joseph also cautioned them about the use of cell phones while using the road.
GINA said the Guyana Trinidad Mutual Life Insurance Company Ltd presented the GNRSC with 20 Stop paddles to be given to schools with trained Road Safety Patrols.
Presentations were also made to the two schools which topped the Schools Safety Patrol Competition, with the first prize going to the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School while second place went to the Tucville Secondary School. North Ruimveldt teacher Kirwyn Mars received an award for being the Best School Safety Patrol Teacher for 2012.