By Michael Benjamin
When someone walks into a trap that is so well concealed that hardly notices, it may be considered an accident. Likewise when one reaches for a slice of bread and inadvertently spills a portion of hot coffee on his hands, this could also be regarded as an accident.
But when a minibus driver careens along the streets at a frightening pace, totally oblivious to the terror experienced by the dozens of commuters in his care and slams into another vehicle or is unable to control his vehicle after sustaining mechanical or other defects, this must not be considered an accident, it should be termed an ‘on purpose’ and the errant driver must have the book thrown at him.
The driver in question certainly regarded the ‘Avenue’ as the ‘Homestretch’ it was and ended up causing an ‘on purpose’ just under a week ago. Subsequently, five persons lost their lives while several others are seriously and remain hospitalized.
The ‘on purpose’ has once again highlighted a need for drivers of all modes of vehicles to exercise great care and caution as they traverse the roadways. More so, those that operate vehicles that transport the public on a daily basis must be placed under certain statutes that relegate them to be extremely careful when plying their trade.
The vociferous outcries of the affected families for swift action in punishing the errant driver are certainly unsurprising but sadly, endorse the view that persons are only wont to join the fight to facilitate an end to this scourge when they are directly affected.
One fully sympathizes with those who lost loved ones and sincerely pray that they find solace in the fact that God knows best and designs situations the way they flesh out.
The grotesque picture of bodies sprawled on the streets coupled with the loud wails emanating from the throats of loved ones should be a strong catalyst for motorists to develop a fresh attitude of the way they use our roads.
During my journalistic tenure I have witnessed many fatal accidents and listened to the wails of the affected. I have seen the police spring into action and adopt a zero tolerance disposition to errant motorists.
The immediate period after a fatal accident is the safest time to use the roads as police officers are teeming and they adopt a zero tolerance attitude to errant motorists. Alas, shortly after the hue and cry, the situation reverts to its former status and the peace officers return to their respective desks.
Naturally, after a horrific accident one would expect motorists to become circumspect and use the roads with care even when law enforcement officers are not around. Unfortunately, such is not the case and just as soon as the police officers return to their offices, the craziness resumes.
Five years ago, while straddled on my motor scooter on the Railway Embankment, a sports utility vehicle slammed into me after the driver failed to stop at the Conversation Tree and Railway Embankment junction. I was unconscious for approximately ten minutes and the doctors had attributed this to my superb level of fitness.
Some six weeks later I sought a discharge from the Georgetown Public Hospital, to the Davis Memorial Hospital where I underwent surgery after registering my dissatisfaction at the quality of medical care I was receiving at the aforementioned medical institution.
I lay in bed with my injured leg elevated and a steel pin riveted through my shin bone to alleviate the excruciating pain that shot through my body at the simplest movement. Even amidst my pain I could not help but note the suffering of those around me after being involved in vehicular accidents.
Further, my pain appeared miniscule in comparison to what other patients were enduring. All around me were persons in various positions, some with both feet elevated high in the air, others swathed in bandages while still others with bandages wrapped around their chests and moaning in pain while imploring the attention for some sort of relief.
I remembered a particular Amerindian patient who had both of his legs in a cast after he was struck down by a car in the Timehri area. Weeks after I was discharged from the Davis Memorial Hospital, where I had gone after requesting a discharge from the Georgetown Public Hospital, I learnt that he had died, not directly from the leg injuries but from brain damage. Further, I say not.
This is the very first time since my accident five years ago that I choose to discuss the details of the mishap that has left me incapable of fully enjoying the use of my right leg even as I am forced to live in pain for the rest of my life, not to mention the taunts from some naïve individuals whose understanding of the suffering and misfortune of others seriously needs some revamping.
It is only after being involved in accidents that one is confronted with the horrific realities of the experience. I share the view that even before magistrates sentence errant drivers to custodial punishment, these legal officials should also direct that they be taken on a tour of the surgical ward of the hospitals as well as the mortuaries to witness the effects of their brand of driving.
These drivers must also visit the broken families and have a first hand look at the enduring pain and suffering that they have caused. They must be told of the sacrifices made by some parents in the very upbringing of their children only to have their lives snuffed out by actions that could be avoided if these drivers abide by the road laws.
One cannot dispute that minibus drivers are the main culprits and that statistics have revealed that this breed has been responsible for a large number of accidents and deaths on our roads. Immediately after the recent Homestretch Avenue accident, an aggrieved mother suggested that the politicians disguise themselves for one week and utilize the public transportation so as to fully understand the horrors of the situation.
I dare say that these politicians are fully aware of the situation and their laissez-faire approach may stem not from unawareness but total ineptitude even a lack of concern. Someone suggested that there may be a conflict of interest where some of these very officials as well as police officers are owners of many of the minibuses that ply our streets.
As such, they turn a blind eye when their drivers breach the road laws.
And so it is that a story making its rounds tells of a busload of politicians driving down a country road, when the bus crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. The old farmer, after seeing what happened, went over to investigate.
A few days later, the local sheriff came out looking for the missing politicians, saw the crashed bus, and asked the farmer where all the bodies had disappeared. The farmer said, “I buried ’em all… out back there.”
The sheriff then asked, “Were they ALL dead?” The old farmer replied, “Well, some of them said they weren’t but I buried them anyway because you know how those politicians lie.”
For far too long citizens have been left to mourn the loss of loved ones while legislators are merely applying band aids to festering, and in some cases, gaping wounds. One only needs to visit the surgical ward at the Georgetown Public Hospital or other private medical institutions to understand the gravity of the situation while appreciating the need for greater care on our roads, and where there is none, stricter laws, stiffer penalties and stringent policing efforts to curtail this scourge that is literally crippling the nation.
The wanton loss of lives has left several families in despair while raising the ire of other law abiding citizens and law enforcement officers. The scene of the recent accident as well as many others where lifeless and badly distorted bodies coupled with the shards of glass scattered on the roadway paints an ugly picture of the horrific nature of what had occurred.
When one also listens to the recitations of the passengers, one common variable has surfaced —speeding. An even closer examination reveals that none of the passengers had raised a voice against the driver’s blatant disregard for the road laws thus they should all shoulder some of the blame for the concomitant results.
Guyanese must no longer put up with such nonsense. Why must we pay for reckless drivers, many of them mere children, to snuff out our lives? When you leave home for work and kiss your loved ones goodbye, all parties must feel comforted that in the evening they could reunite, sit around the dinner table and recount the day’s experiences.
One must not enter buses that bear such emblems like ‘Terror Massive’ and ‘Dark Angel’ among other despicable and outlandish proclamations because by doing so you are actually wooing evil unto yourselves.
Whatever happened to the campaign that instructed drivers to rip those crude epithets from their vehicles?
It’s not everyone who could afford to purchase a motor vehicle. The minibuses form a major part of the transportation industry. These drivers and conductors must understand that there are certain hard and fast prerequisites that go with the territory.
They have automatically signed in to the agreement when they decide to conduct a public transportation system and must either abide by those statutes or vacate the industry.
The government, the police officers, the members of the judiciary and all relevant stakeholders must play their part in the eradication of road lawlessness. Most of all, the commuters must let the drivers know that they value their lives and if the drivers continue to transgress the laws, these commuters must exit the bus—without paying the fare.
Otherwise, just before entering minibuses those that refuse to stand up for their rights must be prepared to lie down among the roses or better yet, simply ask the conductors to save them a fare and put them off at Sandy’s, Lyken’s, Merriman’s or any of the parlours of their choice.
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