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Aiming for zero road fatalities

Friday, May 18, 2018

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The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) is adopting a new target to bring Jamaican road fatalities down to zero annually, says vice chairman Dr Lucien Jones.

“With the challenges being experienced to meet the current target of keeping road deaths 'Below 300' annually, new impetus is needed,” said Dr Jones.

The goal of reaching zero road fatalities by 2050 is to be achieved through new efforts from existing stakeholders, with technical support from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“It is our intention… to join with developed countries which are now moving towards the goal of zero road deaths,” Dr Jones said. “It is ambitious, but it can happen.”

The target to keep road deaths 'Below 300' per year was launched by the NRSC in 2008, at a point when deaths, at 339 that year, were trending down. The campaign achieved a low of 260 in 2012; however, the number has remained above the 300 mark since, with 2017 closing at 320 deaths.

Dr Jones, who was speaking at a Road Safety Lecture at the Faculty of Medical Sciences Complex, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on May 3, pointed to the contribution of Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of The Jamaica National Group, who helped in the formulation of the successful 2008 campaign.

Mr Jarrett told the audience, “I am pleased to be a partner in this lecture by visiting professors Andrea Gielen and Keshia Pollack, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who are speaking on the 'Imperative of Road Safety as a National Priority'.”

He said that the 2017 Cost of Care and Data Mapping Project Report revealed that hospitals managed more than 13,000 road traffic crashes with an estimated direct medical cost of $1.4 billion each year, with an indirect productivity cost of $1.8 billion.

“We should move to implement a national programme which looks at initiating a special 'state of emergency' on our roads,” Jarrett told the audience of road safety stakeholders. “One death on our roads is one too many.”

Professor Gielen pointed to the experience in the United States of America (USA) where government leadership, with sustained commitment to research and surveillance, public support and advocacy, were combined to slash road deaths to 40,000 last year.

“We have to think about multiple comprehensive approaches to prevention and treatment to get those deaths down,” Professor Gielen declared. “This also includes improved engineering of roads and vehicles, and effective law enforcement, backed up by public education.”

Professor Polack explained the importance of promoting road safety, and pointed out that, on average, “about three per cent of a country's gross domestic product is devoted to road traffic crashes”.

“Countries such as Sweden, have already made substantial progress in minimising road fatalities by adopting a Safe Systems approach to road crashes,” she said.

Based on the road safety efforts of The Netherlands and Sweden, the 'Safe System' approach shifts the focus solely from crash reduction to the elimination of death and serious injury through crashes.

“Humans make mistakes and they have limitations,” Professor Polack stated. “They may have crashes, but the systems should be forgiving.”

“We have to think about the roads, the way they are designed, and how people use them,” she stated, pointing out an example. “System-wide strategies are critical. One intervention is not going to lead to system level changes.”

“These changes are targeted to cut the 40,000 annual road deaths in the USA in half by 2030, and to zero by 2050,” Professor Polack declared. “Jamaica is now starting to become more active in adopting these principles.”

The researcher further stated, “We have been conducting research in Jamaica in our collaboration with the National Road Safety Council, in a project aimed to reduce road fatalities in the island to zero,” and indicated that, “This will be carried out during the next nine months.”

The road safety presentation was also addressed by Chris Hind, general manager, JN General Insurance; Dr. Tomlin Paul, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI; Mrs. Paula Fletcher, executive director, NRSC and Winston De La Haye, consultant psychiatrist, UWI, with a large contingent from the Jamaica Defence Force in the audience.

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