MONTEGO BAY, St James — With major highways in western Jamaica recording a total of 129 road fatalities since the start of the year, Deidrie Hudson-Sinclair, acting director of the Road Safety Unit (RSU) in the Ministry of Transport, is urging drivers to exercise caution when utilising the roads during the upcoming holiday season.
According to data provided by the RSU, as of November 30, Westmoreland leads the west with a frightening 55 road fatalities; St James follows with 32; Hanover recorded 26; and Trelawny had 16.
The two main causes of motor vehicle mishaps resulting in fatalities along these roads, the data revealed, are “proceeding at excessive speed with no regard to conditions” and “failing to keep to the near side or to the proper traffic lane”.
Hudson-Sinclair, in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, pointed out that with these four parishes racking up an alarming number of deaths due to motor vehicle crashes along their major roads, she is very concerned about the increased activities along these thoroughfares this Christmas holiday.
“I can only imagine that because of our inability in previous months to go out and enjoy ourselves, we may think that this is the time, now that we've been given some level of allowances and freedom, but we really want to be mindful of that. So, if you want to do that just drink responsibly and don't drive,” Hudson-Sinclair said.
She added, “Especially when you are moving from the parish of Trelawny and heading towards St James, on that strip of highway, we recognised that there are several factors that we predominantly see. Drivers tend to speed and lose control of their vehicles with no ability to correct that. Also, you have to recognise that this particular road has some issues in terms of slippery [surfaces] at certain points.”
For the last 10 years, the acting director told the Observer, the increased levels of activities and interactions on these roads during the month of December have resulted in bloody and fatal Christmas seasons. For this reason, the RSU is appealing to drivers to think about their safety and that of others utilising the roads.
“That is why the unit advocates that [drivers] obey the rules of the road and to take action in the sense of defensive driving, recognising that they're not the only ones using the roads. So, they should be looking out for other drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians,” she said.
“Especially at nights like on grand market night when there is high pedestrian traffic because we recognise that there will be high pedestrians on the roads due to commerce, so we want to be looking out for individuals who don't have the same level of protection as we do,” the acting director continued.
Deidrie Sinclair-Hudson added, “We also have an increased level of motorcyclists on our roadways, and we want to appeal to them now more than ever, there are more cars on the road during this period, cars will be out later because of the increased curfew [hours] and we want [motorcyclists] to wear their helmets and protective gears.”
And after 129 fatalities in the west, with 52 being motorcyclists and 49 being occupants of personal motor cars, Hudson-Sinclair and her team is looking for new ways to “change the indiscipline culture” of drivers.
“We have to be seeking out ways on how we're going to be changing that sort of culture in terms of having the road code test done before you get a driver's licence,” she told the Observer.
“We're ensuring that... a road code, nationally, is developed and we've been looking at how we engage training in terms of defensive driver training…. because we are not a country that takes safety as seriously as we should. That is evident in our refusal to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle and in the way that we approach driving in inclement weather. So, those are aspects of it that we have to really see how we can get to the heart of changing our level of indiscipline and our driving culture overall,” Hudson-Sinclair stated.
While the RSU currently utilises different measures to get its safety messages across, Hudson-Sinclair said, it intends to further educate drivers through training in defensive driving.
“When it comes to road regulations there are punitive clauses that we use in terms of trying to see how best we can sway people from driving recklessly. However, I think the heart of the matter is really to have people understand the importance of defensive driving and to understand that, you know, the roadway is very dangerous. It is far more dangerous than flying, but people wouldn't realise that,” the acting director told the Observer.
But, reckless drivers are not the only ones causing motor vehicle crashes on these thoroughfares, Hudson-Sinclair said.
“The other issue is that we have people with a high level of indiscipline. Unfortunately, along that particular roadway people are vacationing and I'm sure you've seen some people's Instagram pages, they are taking pictures in the road, so there's a high level of indiscipline,” she told the Observer.
“We want to make a special appeal... especially in the west, Westmoreland and St James, where we have a high level of motorcycle fatalities. We have it in Kingston as well, but the numbers in the west have really exceeded our expectations,” said Hudson-Sinclair, in pleading for road users to be cautious.