Fatal – and non-fatal – road accidents

Mostly, the roads are not responsible

If younger drivers don’t care for their lives, who will? – Other than the worried parents of course, who cannot help fretting away and lose sleep when the children announce that they are going to have a late night

Last Tuesday there was a Parliamentary Question about fatal road accidents put by the Second Member for Port Louis Maritime and Port Louis East (Hon Ameer Meea) to the Minister of Public Infrastructure and Land Transport (Hon Nando Bodha), as follows:

‘Whether, in regard to fatal road accidents, he will state the number of reported cases thereof for each of the years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and since January 2018 to date, indicating the number thereof (a) being hit and run cases (b) per types of vehicles involved therein and (c) in which pedestrians have been victims thereof?’

Other than the statistics provided by the Minister, perhaps the most significant part of his reply was in his concluding remarks: ‘It is recognised that the main factor causing road accidents is the driving behaviour while there is also an absence of road safety culture among road users. They believe that they have the right to do whatever they like on the road…It is sad because every death is a tragedy and we have seen that there are young people: out of the 40 there are about 30 of them who are less than 30 years old. It is a disaster for the family and for the country’ (italics added).

 

“What comes out from the Minister’s reply is that it is the road user, especially the driver, who has to shoulder the major share of responsibility for road accidents. Speeding, snaking in between traffic lanes on the road, inappropriate occupation of the fast lane by slow driving vehicles which causes disturbance to other drivers who may have legitimate reasons to be in a hurry, not stopping at pedestrian crossing or burning through the red light – all of this is our own making, and the blame cannot be shifted to the inert road…”


Before we make our comments, we will highlight some points in the reply given by the Minister.

  • There is a new pattern of road safety risks, namely, speeding by youth and of contract vans and driving under the influence of drugs besides alcohol.
  • The number of fatal road accidents from year 2014 and as at date is 578. The breakdown shows a progressive increase: 2014/15/16/17 – 125/127/132/152 cases; and from January 2018 till date, 42 cases
  • The number of reported hit and run cases is 41, but the breakdown does not show any significant trend; so too with the number of pedestrians involved which is to date 180.
  • Measures being taken to mitigate risks of accidents focus on road user behaviour, on enforcement, and on infrastructure including vehicles, as follows:
  • Carrying out of road safety audits of hazardous roads, installation of road furniture, including construction, upgrading and rehabilitation of footpaths;
  • Strengthening of legislative framework and enforcement by the Police;
  • Investing in road safety education and undertaking sensitisation on road safety.
  • Police is carrying out vigorous enforcement as well as sensitisation campaigns, with the Police Sobering Cells yielding good results.
  • Amendments will be made to the Road Traffic Act to provide for a more efficient regime for the Penalty system with increased fines as well as an increased number of cumulative road traffic offences from 11 to 24. A serial offender over a period of 24 months is to be disqualified and ordered to follow a rehabilitation course. The list of offences in relation to which a Fixed Penalty Notice may be served is being consolidated. Furthermore, new legislation on drug driving will also be introduced.
  • The establishment of a Traffic Offence Court is also being envisaged for expedient settling of traffic offences because sometimes it takes 2 years or 3 years between the offence and the appearance in court.
  • Regarding motorcyclists and pedestrians: sensitisation campaigns, particularly of motorcyclists with the opening of the two driving schools of motorcycles and the training of driving instructors and police examiners for motorcycles; restricting the standard of two wheelers to one conforming to European market.
  • For road users, road safety devices are being installed following audits of existing roads. Safety features are being catered for in all new road projects being undertaken.
  • Soon: the training of driving instructors and police examiners of motorcars, while the Federation of Driving Instructors will embark upon refresher course of existing driving instructors for motorcars. The training of instructors of heavy vehicles is also in the pipeline.

What is missing from these statistics are some more data that could add weight to sensitization campaigns: the age of the drivers involved in these fatal accidents, the time that these accidents took place (since young people tend to be driving back in the early hours of the morning after attending parties or discos), the alcohol level in the victims who are drivers. Possibly there may some objection to obtaining the latter information, but for the sake of the youth themselves hard data would certainly help to back up strategic measures being taken.

On the other hand, there is no reason why equal attention should not be given to non-fatal accidents, which in a way can cause a heavier social burden upon the victims who may end up with disabilities of various degrees, some of which can be quite painful and require treatment over long periods. All this can keep them off work for variable periods of time which, if protracted, leads not only to loss of income but may even result in loss of employment. That is surely equally a big tragedy for the family, especially if the victim is the sole breadwinner. Further, there are victims who suffer from permanent disabilities such as paralysis which puts an even heavier burden on an already traumatized family. One must not forget too the profound psychological impact of these conditions upon the victims and their families.

Studies and surveys need to be carried out by the appropriate bodies and institutions to quantify the several issues raised in the preceding paragraph, and that may call for additional or special measures for tackling them. We must not forget the use of mobile phones by the driver while driving, and this must also be recorded in the case of non-fatal accidents. It goes without saying that such studies must be updated on a regular basis and course corrections done on the basis of new information that becomes available.

What comes out from the Minister’s reply is that it is the road user, especially the driver, who has to shoulder the major share of responsibility for road accidents. Speeding, snaking in between traffic lanes on the road, inappropriate occupation of the fast lane by slow driving vehicles (note that in some jurisdictions this is an offence amounting to obstruction of traffic) which causes disturbance to other drivers who may have legitimate reasons to be in a hurry, not stopping at pedestrian crossing or burning through the red light – all of this is our own making, and the blame cannot be shifted to the inert road.

So we have to wake up and assume our responsibility, and this applies particularly to younger drivers who tend to brash. If they don’t care for their lives, who will? – Other than the worried parents of course, who cannot help fretting away and lose sleep when the children announce that they are going to have a late night. Do they ever realise the consequences to the parents? It is time they did.

 


* Published in print edition on 6 April 2018

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