The Police Highway and Traffic Branch recently announced a two per cent decrease in road fatalities for the first four months of the year—46 road fatalities compared to 47 for the same period last year. However, this very marginal improvement may already have been eroded. This past weekend alone there were six road fatalities in less than 48 hours. Add that to the frequent fatal crashes recorded every few days and it is clear that no real progress has been made towards making T&T’s roads safer. What is particularly alarming, as Brent Batson of Arrive Alive noted, is that the average age of this weekend’s victims was 27, and they were all male. In fact, according to the latest data from Arrive Alive, young men ages 15-24 are the highest group of road fatalities in Trinidad and Tobago. Several studies show there has been a steady increase in road-traffic deaths since 2000, which should come as no surprise to road users. Recklessness, flagrant breaches of traffic laws and displays of road rage are common throughout the country, with offenders among all categories of road users, from pedestrians to motorists.
Yet there is very little in the way of enforcement of traffic laws. Instead, the greatest effort seems to be concentrated on towing away badly parked vehicles, which has become a major source of revenue for operators of wreckers. The only innovation has been introduction of the breathalyser. However, while there have been some attempts to crack down on drunk driving, these do not appear to be widespread. Also, in terms of law enforcement, very little is done to discourage speeding, reckless overtaking and breaches of traffic signals—all major causes of vehicular accidents. Although there are laws in place, drivers still drive without seatbelts or talk and text on their mobile phones—with very little risk of being caught and prosecuted. A country report on T&T compiled for the Global Status Report on Road Safety in 2007 underscored the need for more co-ordinated and collaborative interventions to reduce road-traffic accidents, injuries and deaths. Concern was expressed about the absence of a single agency to co-ordinate road safety. Instead that responsibility is strung out and overlapping among several government ministries and NGOs.
Recommendations included establishing a lead agency to guide the national road-traffic safety effort; a situational analysis of road-traffic injuries and deaths; a national road-safety strategy and plan of action; and allocation of financial resources to address the problem. Five years later, there has been plenty of talk but no progress on any of the recommendations. Improving road safety is one of four strategic priorities identified by Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs in the Police Service Strategic Plan 2011-2013. Its main objectives are to reduce the number of road traffic accidents by ten per cent, reduce the number of road fatalities by 15 per cent and increase the detection of impaired drivers by 20 per cent. These plans, recommendations and objectives are all very impressive on paper. But there is no evidence of implementation and no real improvements on the roadways. Instead, as was the case last weekend, the country wakes up to news of more fatalities, including one incident in which three lives were lost in a single crash. All these deaths and injuries from road-traffic accidents take a serious economic and social toll on the country, so the absence of real or sustained action from the authorities to make the roads safer is puzzling.
Hopefully, the news that so many young men are being lost in road fatalities will convince the decision-makers that urgent, immediate action is needed.