Transforming attitudes could sharply reduce road fatalities, accidents

Dear Editor,
Every human life is precious, and must be protected at all costs. Sadly, the incidence of road fatalities is one indicator that defies this maxim. While the Guyana Police Force (GPF) can present statistics to show that the rate of road fatalities/accidents has declined for 2021 compared with 2020, these statistics fail to capture the catalytic impact road fatalities/ accidents have on human suffering, and the socio-economic loss to families and their communities.
How and under what circumstances many of these road fatalities/accidents happen rattles the mind. Nevertheless, from these fatalities/accidents, important lessons could be drawn on how to prevent them, while focusing on the dire need for drivers to embrace good “attitudes.”
Lachman Sukham was allegedly racing when his motor car crashed into a truck at the Borlam Turn, Corentyne. It resulted in his death, as well as that of his co-occupant, Danny Puran. Then there is the other horrific story of three men being killed and two others injured after being struck by a speeding vehicle driven by a young man at De Willem, West Coast Demerara.
With these and other distressing stories making the headlines, the public cannot remain indifferent, but must rally for immediate action to halt this carnage.
Rohan Singh, Senior Superintendent of Police (r’td), has illustrated a probable cause of road fatalities/accidents through an analysis of data on the grant of drivers’ licences for the years 2016/2017. The various levels of corruption at the GPF Traffic Department have been enumerated, of which two are reported here: (i) 397 persons did not write examinations but received pass marks, and (ii) 1,153 or 20.23% of all transactions “conducted by the Traffic Department in all Divisions checked for the period were fraudulent.”
Clinton Conway, former Asst Police Commissioner, supports Mr. Rohan’s claim of Police corruption, and cites his own survey post-2019: “The evidence gathered revealed that over 90 percent of those who went to the Driving Schools to learn to drive already had in their possession their drivers’ licences. No wonder there is a high amount of traffic accidents, particularly fatalities.”
While there have been suggestions that road traffic fatalities/accidents might be correlated with questionable issuance of drivers’ licences, such correlation is not necessarily casual. For example, if there exists a correlation, this means that greater corruption in the form of granting licences to unqualified drivers would lead to higher road fatalities/accidents. Alternatively, if corruption is reduced, then road fatalities would also be reduced. However, the Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill, reports on the contrary, that road fatalities have declined by 28.7%; that is: from 139 in 2020 to 99 in 2021.
There are other intervening variables, like better traffic enforcement and presence of CTVs camera, that could help to explain this drop, other than the lessening of corruption.
While further probing into any casual correlation between corruption and road traffic accidents should be pursued, this should not detract from other law enforcement initiatives to reduce fatalities/accidents. Minister Edghill notes: “The vulnerable class of road users (pedal cyclists, motor cyclists and pedestrians)” comprised 67.7% of the total road deaths in 2021, [while] in 2020 that proportion was 79.9%. Pedal and motorcyclists alone constituted 37.4% of road fatalities, compared with 56.1% in 2020. To reinforce Minister Edghill’s concern, a 31-year-old motorcyclist, Joshua I Ramdeen, was killed after colliding with a Canter in New Amsterdam on March 22, 2022. And a 37-year-old driver, on March 18, 2022, allegedly fatally struck down 2 persons on the No 70 Public Road, Corentyne.
Enforcement work should therefore zero into these at-risk groups, and then spread out to others who drive under the influence of alcohol.
Many accidents are caused by speeding, and by drivers not observing the speed limits. Minister Edghill notes the “reckless and uncaring manner” of some drivers. This concern raises a fundamental point: “attitude” on the road. If a driver does not have the right attitude and flouts the rules, then the probability of accidents rises.
Why is it that men, for example, are more than 4 times more likely to be involved in accidents than women? One explanation is that there are less women motorists, but this alone cannot explain the difference. The vital variable is “attitude.” Women’ approach to driving is based more on caution and responsibility, as well as embracing a favourable attitude.
Victims of road fatalities /accidents want drivers to operate with courtesy, and observe road safety rules. They want to weed out corruption from the licensing process, and they want tough enforcement of the road traffic rules. They want a greater role to be played by the National Road Traffic and Safety Council. They also want motor vehicle certification to be done by state-licensed mechanic shops, and not by the Police. And a special unit of the GRA should issue drivers’ licences, and not the Police.
In this way, Police could focus on traffic enforcement, crime prevention, and detection.
There are three major social pathologies that afflict Guyana: road fatalities, murders, and suicides, none of which has a constituency which can rally on victims’ behalf. These social pathologies originate out of “rage,” a condition which the process of social adaptation has failed to tame. Combined with other social ills, they point towards the cracks in the social fabric of society, which signal the existence of underlying causes that could become explosive if these are not addressed appropriately.
And the prospect of a good life to usher with Guyana’s oil wealth cannot be built upon a social structure that is infected with lethal viruses. Sustained efforts must be made to neutralise these negative forces (road fatalities, murders, and suicides) through attitudinal changes, among other things.

Dr Tara Singh