By Dennis Nichols
Located as we are in the western part of the world, Guyanese can be described as an occidental (as opposed to oriental) nation. Adding dark humour to this term, we could call ourselves an ‘accidental’ people, and maybe chuckle at the bad pun, were it not for the deadly serious consequences of vehicular and other mishaps occurring almost daily; many fatally.
Are any country’s tragedies unique to it? Not just the events themselves, but the circumstances that frame them. Ours may be. Accidents occur everywhere; everyday, but those who make them a study say most don’t just happen; they are caused. Through recklessness, inattention, poor preparation, fatigue, ignorance, and blame-shifting ‘acts of God’ among others. Did someone say Guyana?
Some accidents are necessary and beneficial, (the discovery of penicillin) and experts say that to a degree, many are avoidable, even given the atrocious habits humans develop over time. Commonsense tells us one of the biggest is the ego-prodding habit that says ‘It can’t’ or ‘won’t happen to me.’ Until it does. Ask accident survivors.
Tom Chatfield, a young author/commentator makes a telling point about the human factor in road accidents: “Modern motor vehicles are safer and more reliable than they have ever been; yet more than one million people are killed in car accidents around the world each year, and more than 50 million are injured. Why? Largely because one perilous element in the mechanics of driving remains unperfected by progress – the human being.”
The late boxer, Muhammad Ali, was less cynical about human imperfection, but not about chance happenings. He said, “Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.”
So what happens in our country? Watch from a safe distance, maybe atop the Church of the Transfiguration on Mandela Avenue, (and be transfixed) as minibuses, cars, cyclists, animal-drawn carts, pedestrians, and huge, cargo-laden trucks vie for vehicular preeminence with daredevil maneuvers. One word forces itself onto your spinning brain – crazy!
Or climb the Stabroek Market clock tower for a more compact and frenzied version in the vicinity of our ‘bizarre bazaar’. Don’t miss out on minibus touts earning their daily bread; vying for decibel dominance with the cacophonous clamour of shoppers and vendors. Imagine frazzled drivers, conductors and passengers careening off into potholed streets. And pray!
Variations on this dangerously cavalier theme can be found at several locations in Georgetown and along the coast.
Stand at the corner of Robb Street and Avenue of the Republic and see those monster container-carrying 18-wheelers lurching, revving, and braking to make the right turn as smaller vehicles impertinently wriggle and squeeze by within inches of being crushed.
Need a more expansive view? Get a drone perspective. Better yet, take a GT helicopter tour, then skim over the coast. As you do, imagine the minibuses, taxis, and motorcyclists speeding below are actually racing against your flying machine on one of our ‘three paved highways’. Then wonder if any will veer into the surrounding ‘watery wilderness’. Don’t laugh; it’s serious.
I mean heartbreakingly serious. Who can imagine the physical and mental trauma Judy Park has suffered after having her teenaged sister literally torn from next to her in that horrific accident in Mahaicony last week? Or that of the relatives of Tessa Ibrahim and Marlon McFarlane, the mother and son who died in an accident days before, after their car hit a pothole on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway? And countless others.
Much has been said and written about these and other types of accidents throughout our country – from road and river mishaps, drownings, mining pit cave-ins, snake bites, and poisonings, to fires, construction site falls, domestic and workplace casualties, and the occasional plane crash. What is often omitted is where research shows that certain personality types are more prone to certain types of accidents, even from a psychological angle.
It’s slightly confusing. One study showed that optimists were more likely than pessimists to avoid both fatal and non-fatal accidents due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, those prone to accidents, especially fatal ones, manifested ‘risk factors’ such as male, younger age, extrovert, sensation-seeking, left-handedness (in a right-handed world) and binge drinking.
But then again, anxiety and depression, not hallmarks of optimism, also make the list; an interesting observation being that the gaze of those who are depressed is typically downward – not a good thing to do when crossing a street.
Finally there is a situational risk factor known as ‘newness’, which explains that ‘for six months or so following a new job, a new residence, a new school, a new automobile, or a new route to work, the risk of traumatic mishaps goes up’. This seems incidental, but there are numerous reports of accidents involving the owners or drivers of new (or reconditioned) vehicles, and persons who just moved to a new home or started a new job. Think back and you’ll see.
The conclusion is that many accidents are in fact predictable, which is why researchers sometimes use ‘less misleading terms like traumatic mishaps’ to define them. So if they are predictable, aren’t they also preventable, at least to a large extent? The answer must be yes.
Here are some suggestions for Guyana, again. Education! Make road safety teaching a priority in schools at every level, and for all road users. Explain clearly, and as simply as possible, what risk factors are, and how they can be practically lessened. Teach and reteach care, courtesy, consideration etc…
Get practical. Fill/repair potholes, especially in urban areas and along our ‘highways’ where needed. Fix and update road signs, and ‘let there be light’ on all of our roadways. Step up the impounding of wandering animals. (Maybe their owners with them; they contribute to fatalities)
Revamp traffic departments, remove so-called rogue cops, and attract/recruit police officers with unbribable salaries; twenty ‘Grangers’ and upwards? For God’s sake, and the sake of every Guyanese, review and enforce traffic laws, particularly with respect to speeding and DUI.
It can be done, now. This could be seen as an exhaustive overhaul, but Guyana is not a mega-country. And we don’t have to wait on 2020 oil.
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