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By Mark DaCosta- The number of road accidents in Guyana is unacceptably high. While there are countless accidents on Georgetown’s roadways every day — most of which may not be reported — the World Bank reports that a person is killed on Guyana’s roads every two and a half days, and eight persons are seriously injured every day. Those statistics are alarming because Guyana has a small population, and the country simply cannot sustain such losses.
Notably, the majority of persons who are killed or seriously injured are in the 15 to 45-year age group, with a 4:1 male to female ratio. That means that the highest rate of fatalities and injuries occur among the most economically productive citizens. The World Bank estimates that direct funeral and medical costs of such incidents amount to some $290 million per year; about 8 per cent of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Building and expanding roads, perhaps, because there is money to be made whenever such projects are undertaken, have to be done in a structured manner with attention paid to future development, proper road layout and road users safety. Present construction, one road user told this publication, seems like an opportunity to mask corruption, not reduce congestion and ensure safety and proper use of the road.
Looking at the bigger picture would reveal congestion is not the only problem, it may not even be the biggest problem.
The World Bank reports that Guyana’s road accidents primarily involve 4 wheeled vehicles followed by 2 wheeled cycles, far outnumbering incidents involving such vehicles across the Americas. On the other hand, pedestrian traffic accounts for the fewest accidents in Guyana while in the region the opposite is true with pedestrian involvement being the largest category of accidents.
Expert opinions sought by this publication agree that under “normal” conditions of congestion-induced accidents, pedestrians should, statistically, have the highest fatality and injury rates. Obviously, Guyana does not fit into the expected profile. One may reasonably conclude that factors other than congestion are to blame for our high accident rate. As such, government’s sharing out of lucrative road works contracts will not solve our road safety problem.
Almost every thinking Guyanese knows the main causes of the problem. How many drivers on Guyana’s roads actually attended the classes and honestly passed a practical test to obtain a licence? 50 per cent, perhaps, 10 per cent? On the other hand, how many drivers passed money under the table to get a licence?
If a person paid a bribe not having gone to a class, does that person even know what various road signs and markings mean? Does such a person know how to work out his or her stopping distance? Probably not.
Another matter is that of non-functioning traffic lights. One has only to observe the situation in front of the zoo or at the Lamaha Street / Vlissengen Road junction during rush hours to fully grasp the concept of “total chaos.” None of those lights, among countless others, have worked for quite some time. Guyanese may be justified in wondering if the bigger heads in the Guyana Police Force and the Ministry of Works — the agencies responsible for traffic lights — don’t pass near those lights in their expensive, taxpayers-funded vehicles and notice that the lights are out of order.
Building roads is one thing, but has government given any thought to incentivising reducing the number of vehicles on the roads? Conscious, responsible authorities have successfully implemented carpooling, for example. Do such innovative ideas even cross the minds of Guyana’s government officials?
With the roads, and walkway, and promenades the PPP is sharing out contracts to construct, the corresponding concerns are, were the required environmental, social, feasibility, and other assessments done.? Such information has not been made public. Guyanese, undoubtedly, would have an interest in pursuing such studies so as to make up their own minds about the effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of taxpayers-financed undertakings.
It is evident that Guyana’s road safety issue is not caused only by insufficient roads; the problem has been proven to be much more complex. That being the case, in order to address the disproportionate numbers of deaths and injuries on our roadways, imaginative and comprehensive solutions must be sought. Incidentally, authorities do not have to reinvent the wheel; other territories which have solved similar challenges may be consulted.