THE Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing is renewing efforts to influence behaviour change among road users islandwide, particularly motorists, through its current public education campaign.
Themed 'Walk, Ride and Drive for Life', the initiative -- which is being spearheaded by the ministry's Road Safety Unit -- aims to further heighten awareness among road users of the need to exercise greater caution and care when traversing the nation's thoroughfares, as the authorities endeavour to keep fatalities below the 300 mark.
Statistics show that upwards of 200 people have died from more than 190 traffic accidents since January. The fatalities include four students of Holmwood Technical High School in Manchester, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a two-vehicle collision in the parish last month while travelling to school.
Mindful of the significant losses, dislocation, and inconvenience resulting from these tragedies, the ministry, in partnership with a number of key private and State agencies and stakeholders, has moved to initiate the programme, which should not only be effective in capturing the public's attention, but will successfully curb errant behaviour on the roads, thus reducing crashes and fatalities.
Speaking at the recent campaign launch at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew, minister without portfolio in the Transport Ministry Dr Morais Guy stressed that the need for action to improve road safety is most critical and crucial at this time, as the spate of accidents only serve to hinder the country's growth and development.
"Billions are expended on police resources to deter bad road behaviour and to respond to, and investigate cases after accidents. Billions are [also] used to equip hospitals to handle emergency cases and dispense medication, and it costs insurance companies billions in payouts resulting from many avoidable mishaps," the minister said.
"It also costs you drivers, when your insurance rates go up, due to the high rate of accidents. On that point, it is clearly noted tha t safety has to be the cheapest and most effective insurance policy," he added.
Dr Guy pointed to World Bank statistics which indicate that over 1.3 million people die in road accidents globally, each year. Of significance, he noted, is that over 70 per cent of those fatalities occur in developing countries, like Jamaica.
The minister explained that through the latest campaign, Jamaica is playing its role in the push to reduce road deaths and, by extension, protect the well-being of the nation.
In her remarks, permanent secretary in the ministry Audrey Sewell lamented the loss of lives, and voiced particular concern that children and the elderly comprise approximately 25 per cent of the fatalities recorded so far this year.
"Almost everybody in Jamaica has suffered some pain with what is happening on our roads [and] I am concerned about safety on our roads, especially the treatment of children, the elderly and (other) vulnerable road users in the traffic environment," she said.
"This [campaign] might not be a panacea for all the ills of our road situation but if we can [promote] road safety... through the positive messages we intend to send, then we will go a far way at curbing the negative behaviour out there," she said, adding that each person has a part to play.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites voiced concern about existing and potential perils facing the nearly 700,000 children commuting to school daily, and stressed that "any campaign to improve road safety must, in fact, begin with them and special care must be offered to them".
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Glenmore Hinds, pledged the Jamaica Constabulary Force's commitment to doubling their efforts to ensure that errant road users are brought to book. He also urged the public to play their part to reduce the carnage.
"It is no longer the time for us to wring our hands or for us all to say 'it's not us, it's not our workers'. It is the business and responsibility of all of us. We all must take personal responsibility for ensuring that we commit ourselves to safety on the roads and do everything on our part to ensure that we make the roads safer for all who use it," he said.
The ministry's campaign includes a series of road shows to be rolled out over the next three months and incorporates entertainment from several popular entertainers. This includes Voicemail,Tanya Stephens, Roy Rayon and media personality Jennifer 'Jenni Jenni' Small.