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Barriers will not reduce road fatalities
Every time there is a road accident with multiple deaths, all manner of people propose measures to “reduce the carnage on the roads.” Sometimes I wonder if they seriously think about the issue and what really causes vehicular accidents and what, if anything, can be done to prevent them. Before the introduction of the breathalyser, each major accident was followed by “the breathalyser could have saved these lives,” “the Government is not serious about introducing the breathalyser law,” “we urge the Government to prevent further carnage,” “bring on the breathalyser now!” etc, etc. Well, we brought on the breathalyser and it seems that the “carnage” has increased. Some are surprised but did not ask how the breathalyser could have prevented a drunk, sleepy driver crashing into a pylon at 4 am or crossing the median and crashing into vehicles on the other side.
While the breathalyser law is a good thing, it could never prevent the horrific accidents we have had in recent times. Nothing could, except the drivers themselves. (One could even argue that the breathalyser caused these accidents, using the kind of nonsense logic that has been used to convince us that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.) Next, we said that banning hand-held cellphones would help solve the problem. Again, this is a welcome step but, again, it will not (cannot) reduce the deaths on the roads. Why? Firstly, having the law does not prevent someone from using the phone, especially at 2 am.
Secondly, all the studies have shown that whether or not your hands are free is not the problem. The conversation is. You may ask, isn’t it the same as talking to someone in the vehicle? It’s not. The difference between talking to someone on the phone and someone in the vehicle is that the one in the vehicle can usually alert you to possible danger. Also, in the vehicle, your attention is “local” while on the phone it is “distant.” While these measures are good and may help to reduce minor accidents, they have little or no influence on road fatalities. To see why, just look at the US. They have the strictest laws concerning breathalysers, cellphone use, cameras at traffic lights, etc. What’s more, as opposed to T&T, these laws are strictly enforced.
Yet, with a population of 300 million, road fatalities in the US range between 40,000 and 50,000 a year. This gives an average of about 15 per 100,000. In T&T, the average number of road fatalities is about 200 a year. With a population of 1.5 million, this gives an average of about 13 per 100,000, a bit less than the US. Even if we were to implement all the measures that the US has, and we should, do not expect any reduction in the road fatality figures. That’s simply because the driver is the cause of most accidents.
A car does not just decide to talk a ride across the median into the lanes going in the opposite direction. A real live (but not for long) human being who is either drunk, careless, irresponsible, inconsiderate, unskilled or any combination of these is the cause. Blaming the lack of barriers is naive, to say the least. If the barriers were there, a different set of people (those crashing from behind or swerving to avoid this mass of metal/plastic) would be killed. The cynic could contend that the barriers did save the lives of those on the opposite side but that is being, well, cynical. Blaming the “dangerous/unsafe road” is another favourite. Dangerous road, my foot. Didn’t hundreds of thousands of drivers pass there in the last week without an accident? So the road was dangerous/unsafe for this one driver? We need to understand that the road is not dangerous/unsafe, the driver is.
It wasn’t the driver’s fault, he merely “lost control of the vehicle.” And, pray tell, how did he lose control? Speeding, racing under the influence, not mindful of the road conditions, using a cellphone? Someone runs his car into a pole and the media call it the “killer pole.” The poor pole was just standing there minding its own business. So who is the real killer?
Is driver education the solution? It may help to reduce some accidents but I suspect that nothing will really influence the mindset of those who drive their vehicles in a manner that causes major life-taking accidents.
In summary, all the measures normally proposed will help to reduce some types of accidents. Unfortunately, they would hardly have an effect on road fatalities. So should we erect barriers dividing the highway? Sure, if we have money to waste. But please don’t be surprised when the carnage continues.
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