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Highway madness

A breakdown in law and order seems to be permeating Barbadian society. Consideration for one’s fellowman or good old common sense appears to be gradually becoming scarce. This decline is perhaps most manifested on Barbados’ highways and byways. The Highway Code clearly permits the overtaking manoeuvre but drivers are presented with the caveat, “overtake at your own risk”.

What is of grave concern is that some drivers in Barbados are taking that admonition to a whole new level, one that is nothing short of dangerous. Surely many of you have witnessed an impatient or overzealous driver overtaking in circumstances where the vehicle being overtaken is forced to apply the brakes to avoid a collision or an oncoming vehicle must slowdown considerable to avoid a head-on crash. Indeed, others overtake near corners or blind spots.

What is most alarming is that many drivers who are guilty of these dangerous practices seem to be oblivious of the danger posed to themselves and other road users. It seems as though many “overtakers” are emboldened by the fact that their high risk stakes payoff.

Given the small size of Barbados and the amount of traffic congestion it is not unusual to be overtaken when abiding by the speed limit then to pull up behind the vehicle of Mr. or Ms. Impatient at the traffic lights or roundabout and wonder what the rush and risk to life and limb was all about.

Another obnoxious practice is the minibus phenomenon known as “dragging”. Dragging typically occurs during commuter low peak times of the day, namely weekday afternoons or on Sundays. The rationale of the minibus drivers seems to be that the slower one drives during these periods the more likely it is to maximise the number of passengers before reaching the destination.

In the process both their passengers and fellow road users are inconvenienced due to the imposition of unreasonably longer travel times. These inconsiderate self-serving minibus drivers create an unnecessary state of induced rush hour traffic as long lines of vehicles are forced to drive at speeds between 30 and 40 kilometres per hour. It is high time that the authorities root out this unseemly practice of impeding the free flow of traffic. It has gotten out of hand as it has become more ubiquitous.

Another major cause of concern is the illegal racing that takes place on the stretch of highway between the Belle junction and the Clyde Walcott roundabout. Surely by now the police are aware of the organised illegal racing on weekends after midnight. The nation needs to know what steps have been taken or are being taken to protect innocent unassuming road users from the serious danger created by this lawless bunch of racing enthusiasts. What steps are being taken to protect them from themselves?

Two Sundays ago as I approached the Belle junction at about 12:10 a.m., I wondered what was going on that so many cars were parked in the merging lane while a small crowd gathered. As I proceeded, a car sped past me at about 120 kilometres an hour, bobbing and weaving from lane to lane through the few vehicles travelling ahead of me. I quickly realised that illegal racing was in motion.

Wouldn’t you believe, as I approached the Clyde Walcott roundabout I witnessed one of the most reckless manoeuvres that I have ever seen on the roads of Barbados. As the driver approached the roundabout in the right lane, rather than going around the roundabout to head back south towards the Norman A. Niles Roundabout, the driver handbraked, made an illegal U-turn by the Jersey barrier where he/she was vulnerable to oncoming traffic and then sped back down the highway. I was flabbergasted. All I could say was, “Well, well, well!”.

During the past week, I have witnessed minibus drivers travelling in opposite directions stopping side by side to have a prolonged chat. On Sunday an older gentleman stopped in the middle of the road for about five minutes peering through a side street as he gestured to his passengers. Vehicles travelling from the opposite direction were force to squeeze past the gentleman’s vehicle as those behind him had no choice but to wait. Despite the honking of horns, the driver of the vehicle in question was indifferent to the inconvenience he was causing others as he persisted with his objective to his heart’s content.

On another occasion, while travelling along a country road an old guy pulled over in a corner while with some urgency signalling to the vehicles behind him to overtake. Not to be outdone, a truck driver was seen speeding around a corner along a narrow country road with the refrigerator strapped on to the tailgate rocking from side to side. The height of ignorance!

Oh Lord, continue to have mercy.

Barbadians generally are skilled drivers but too many of them are horrible, horrible at it, a menace, an accident waiting to happen. Of course in general it appears as if the use of indicators when changing lanes, overtaking or turning onto a side street is taboo. Fellow Barbadians I urge you, be more considerate to other road users. Use your indicators; they were made for a reason.

I would also like to make an appeal for deference to pedestrians and those using zebra crossings. Too many drivers fail to stop at designated pedestrian crossings. To add insult to injury, recently I was driving behind a car whose driver blew the horn at a pedestrian standing at the side of the crossing as he/she zoomed past. As I chuckled in disbelief I stopped to allow the lady to cross the street.

Many of the bad driving practices sited above are too common. Regrettably, the ZR culture of blatant disregard for road traffic regulations is creeping into the mainstream. Together with the police, we must reverse this worrying trend.

*Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience.

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