At the end of December of 2014, one of our front page pictures was a photograph of a father in deep mourning, kneeling over the lifeless body of his young son, victim of a reckless driver.
That child was one of 119 people killed in fatal accidents for that year, a year that included the double tragedy of a young woman who died in a car crash and her father who took his own life out of grief.
We are only in September of this year and we have reached the total with the death of a 21-year-old Essequibo man last night taking this year’s total fatalities to 119, matching 2014’s total. According to the Guyana Police Department statistics, fatalities this year are 42 percent over last year’s for the matching period. Moreover, the overwhelming number of those fatalities are young persons with August being a particularly deadly month, one accident seeing the loss of three young lives. This is not an easy fix.
Speaking at a road safety stakeholder’s consultation in 2015, PAHO/WHO representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow informed the group that globally:
“…the 15 -29 age group is the first in terms of death, which leads to 1 million deaths yearly, costing over billions of dollars.
Within the Americas, between the ages 5-14 it is the first in terms of all death, between 15- 44 it is the second cause of deaths, which constitutes 80% of deaths of males. In the Americas, there are about 140 thousand deaths due to road traffic accidents yearly with over 5 million injuries.”
To be clear, while this year’s road fatalities are an almost 50 percent increase over last year’s, we have had far deadlier years with 2007 seeing around 200 deaths. That said, we never seem to be able to push below the magic number of 100 and year after year our youngest continue to bear the brunt of the carnage.
The reality is that most road accidents are preventable, with the factors behind them ranging from a culture of speeding to substandard infrastructure to poor enforcement of basic road safety rules. For example, an overwhelming number of accidents are caused by vehicles or containers that are illegally parked/placed along roadways.
Potholes or otherwise poor public transportation infrastructure are another cause of preventable accidents.
Drunk driving is another factor in fatal accidents but arguably only to the degree that it continues to be a problem due to flaws in the enforcement of drunk driving laws and perhaps the laws themselves – for example, repeated infringement for drunk driving in other jurisdictions come with a penalty system that lead to suspension of licenses and eventually permanent revocation.
If we compare COVID-19 deaths to road fatalities for this year, the latter is double the former yet we do not seem to have the commensurate response with road safety that we have with COVID-19, from the lockdown measures to the massive public education campaigns. Year after year, our young people are dying not by disease or war or hunger but by primarily preventable road accidents.
Perhaps we need to treat this with the same urgency with which we are treating the pandemic.
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