With road traffic fatalities drawing closer to the 200 mark, and four months left in the calendar year, there is increasing anxiety within the road safety sector about the end-of-year toll.
The anticipation of reducing road deaths to below 240 this year, after finally breaking the "under 300" barrier last year, has given way to trepidation that the figures may be climbing back up to surpass the 300 mark or probably the 400 mark of two decades ago.
Last Monday, the Road Safety Unit (RSU) of the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing confirmed that 194 persons had been killed since the start of the year, an increase of 24 over the number of deaths recorded for the same period in 2012.
These 194 deaths resulted from 173 crashes, a frightening increase over the 148 road mishaps recorded last year. The figures represent a 14 per cent increase in road deaths, and a 17 per cent rise in the number of crashes.
The same day, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) issued a statement expressing alarm over the "dramatic increase" in recent weeks, and appealing for speeding up of the drafting of the long awaited revised Road Traffic Act.
According to NRSC Vice-Chairman Dr Lucien Jones, there is a dire need for "new ammunition to fight the epidemic of road crashes".
Dr Jones was referring to the fact that in four days, between August 23 and 27, traffic crashes caused nine deaths and more than 21 injuries.
These crashes have occurred across the island, including: Sheffield main road, Westmoreland; Queens Highway and Howard Cooke Boulevard, St James; Wilderness Road, St Mary; and Spanish Town Road, Kingston.
Dr Jones is of the view that the promulgation of the new Road Traffic Act will advance current enforcement initiatives, as well as be a comprehensive approach in addressing traffic breaches and traffic environment deficiencies.
"The Road Traffic Act is taking too long to be adopted. It has been in the drafting and legislative cycle since 2004 -- a total of nine years," Dr Jones said.
He recalled that Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies promised in 2012 that the Bill would be ready this fiscal year, but suggested that it needs to be ready, if possible, by the end of the calendar year.
"That's the only way we will deter motorists who are intent on causing mayhem on the roads," he argued.
He pointed out that changes will include that where traffic tickets are unpaid, the new Act will prohibit the traffic offenders from doing certain transactions with the Government.
"The new Road Traffic Act proposes several road safety components when compared to the current Act. For example, it will address cellphone use while driving. It will also cause Jamaica to adopt an international tyre standard, and a new and improved driver-training standard. A system for certifying driving instructors will also be established," he noted.
Turning to the matter of the suspension of drivers' licences, Dr Jones said that the current traffic regulations do not guarantee automatic suspension of drivers' licences by the Island Traffic Authority. However, licences can be suspended by way of the courts, and at the discretion of the presiding judge.
Under the new Road Traffic Act there will be automatic suspension of licences, after the perpetrators have accrued a certain number of demerit points.
In the meantime, he said that the council is emphasising that crashes are preventable and motorists should desist from speeding, which is the major contributor to fatal traffic mishaps.
"From all accounts, speeding is the main cause of the recent crashes and we are appealing to operators of private and public transportation to exercise greater care and caution on the roads," said Paula Fletcher, executive director of the NRSC.
She also explained that, since the start of the year, seven pillion passengers and 13 pedal cyclists have lost their lives — representing a 250 per cent hike in the deaths of pillion passengers and a 62.5 per cent uptick in the deaths of pedal cyclists.
There is also a disturbing trend in which the deaths of private motor vehicle passengers have moved from 29 during the January 1 to August 27 period of 2012, to 39 for the corresponding period this year — a 34 per cent increase.
The NRSC noted that road fatalities involving children have increased from 16 for January 1 to August 27, 2012, to 20 for January 1 to August 27, 2013; representing a 25 per cent hike.
NRSC member and chairman of the Jamaica Automobile Association Earl Jarrett has advised that if the country is to achieve the new target of fewer than 240 road fatalities this year, every Jamaican needs to take the issue of road safety seriously.
"I am convinced that not every Jamaican is playing a proactive role in self-protection and the protection of others on our roads," Jarrett said. "This needs to change. We need to start today, to exercise care and caution and obey the rules of the road."