Traffic accidents and fatalities in Guyana are currently on the decline, and while we are encouraged by the data that show the number of road fatalities so far this year stands at 55, compared to 68, over the same period last year, we share the view expressed by many that there are still far too many people dying on our roads.
The figures are relatively encouraging, given the fact that at this time of year, schools are closed and many children can be seen playing in the streets and on the roadways without any form of supervision.
But there is other side. Many young people who drink and party heavily, then drive impaired and sleepy, ought to be advised if not sternly warned that alcohol and driving have proven to be a bad combination, placing their lives, those of their passengers and other road users at risk.
Police statistics show that people in the 19 to 34 age group have accounted for the majority of the traffic fatalities so far this year. Frankly, we are losing too many of our young people, who ideally should form the core of the nation’s future development prospects.
Studies have shown that alcohol may impair tired drivers, even if they are not drunk. Drivers with blood alcohol levels below the legal cutoff limit for being considered drunk may still be unsafe if they are sleep deprived.
The studies found that a combination of moderate alcohol consumption and just about five hours of sleep a night has led to greater drowsiness, impaired motor coordination, critical thinking skills and quick decision-making, than either sleep restriction or alcohol intake alone.
Simply put, impaired drivers take more risks than they might while sober and no amount of alcohol intake has been deemed safe when under the influence of sleepiness. Our message is clear; sleep deprivation can cause distraction and delayed reaction times, therefore avoid alcohol when feeling sleepy and have a short nap before attempting to drive.
People can no longer bear the devastating impact that road fatalities and injuries have on their families, communities, and the country’s economy. Families are plunged into poverty because they lose their breadwinners or because they must take lifelong care of relatives who are either maimed or disabled, and no longer able to function as they could or should as a result of a traffic accident. Some of our promising youths are bedridden for life.
We have pointed out time and again that over the years frequent traffic accidents have placed the health system under pressure, sometimes forcing doctors and nurses to make tough choices about sharing limited resources at the public hospitals in cases of multiple emergencies. There is one basic fact that we should all remember: Speed kills and it does not require knowing rocket science to understand the deadly impact caused by speed.
While it is the responsibility of those who drink, to think of the consequences of their actions, we believe that the authorities should warn those who feel that they must imbibe, of the serious consequences of their actions, if they do not appoint a designated driver to prevent tragedies on the roads. They must emphasize that road safety is not just a job for the police; it is the responsibility of everyone.
We welcome the reduction of traffic fatalities, but it is not enough. Life is precious and one death is one too many. We have to employ meaningful methods to reduce speeding and interdict those driving under the influence. It is time that the importance of road safety be indelibly etched in the minds of Guyanese.
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