Be road safe

On Sunday, Italy recorded one of its worst vehicular accidents in many years as an Italian tour bus crashed through a sidewall of a highway bridge and plunged 100 feet into a wooded ravine, killing 38 people on Sunday. Rescuers using electric saws cut through the mangled wreckage in the search for survivors.

The bus had crashed through a retaining wall leaving large chunks visible in a clearing below.

The bus lost control near the town of Monteforte Irpino in Irpinia, about 160 miles south of Rome, hitting several cars before plunging off the viaduct. Chaos delayed traffic for miles in all directions. Italian journalist Giuseppe Crimaldi reporting from the accident site said that witnesses told him the bus had been going at a “normal” speed on the downhill stretch of the highway when it suddenly veered and started hitting cars. Some witnesses thought they heard a noise as if the bus had blown a tire.

On July 2007, during the final weekend before Kadooment, Barbados recorded one of its worst traffic accidents when the driver of a chartered tour bus headed for the East Coast Road, lost control while going down hill. Death and tragedy followed and the incident became known as the Joes River Tragedy.

The investigation that followed that incident revealed that the bus had been reported as faulty by the same driver who lost his life in the accident. It also suggested that poor maintenance was one of the main issues recorded by drivers as part of their regular routine.

There have been many accidents since the Joes River Tragedy involving loss of life. However, one of the main concerns raised by the relatives of the Joes River victims was that definitive action would be taken to ensure that a similar incident would not happen again.

Calls were made for the establishment of an independent body, similar to the US National Transportation Safety Board that investigates air, land and marine incidents in the US. This body along with the US Coast Guard, US Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration functions as “the protectors” of the US travelling public.

Calls by various Barbadian private organisations and public safety lobbyists for the establishment of an entity have for the most part fallen on deaf ears; even though the same call will be made on the platforms of varying public events, the realisation of the pronouncement remains ever elusive.

Last weekend marked the beginning of the final week of high capacity crowd attendance events of the 2013 Crop-Over Festival, from Foreday Mornin’ to Bridgetown Market to Pic-O-De-Crop to Kadooment; each event will attract large crowds of persons who will rely on various types of public transportation, whether chartered, private hire or public owned — all will be accessed by the public.

However the questions still remain unanswered: Where is the maintenance done? Who does the maintaining? Where are the records confirming such maintenance?

Are these fair questions to ask at this time when the majority of the public will be relying on public or private transportation services to join in the 2013 festivities?

In my opinion they are extremely relevant and fair, as the lives of many will be in the hands of few. Am I crying wolf? Or am I am simply suggesting that before one rents or hires a public or private vehicle that one inquires about the maintenance history of the vehicle you are about to enter?

There is one more word of caution that must be raised as Crop-Over builds to its crescendo, and that is the cautionary note of the combination of alcohol and driving. In this case it is not the party goer that I am cautioning, but the driver of the chartered buses or cars that will also be on the road. Most public announcements at this time will warn against drinking and driving, but seldom do we hear about encouraging public transportation drivers to refrain from drinking and driving while on duty.

Too often we overlook the fact that at any public gathering where vehicles are rented or chartered to move large groups of people, that the drivers of the same vehicles will, on almost all occasions be invited to participation in a “little libation” to “pass away the time while waiting”. The problem with this “little libation” is its possible effect on the skills of the now slightly inebriated driver.

Many of us in the media have observed similar behaviours at events all across this country, including the often frowned upon but not stopped gathering at the back of the car at funerals. One could sarcastically suggest that this type of occasion is the best place to drink, as the drinkers/drivers are not to far from reaching their new long-term address.

During the last election, there was a major call for the introduction of Breathalyzers in Barbados, tougher penalties for drunk drivers, stricter enforcement of the highway regulations, and an end to our highways being turned into midnight raceways. Today, six years after Joes River, the rhetoric, the accident and fatality statistics continued to be tabulated to no avail.

Two years ago, I drove from the airport to St. Lucy to observe driving habits. What I found was a most harrowing experience; roundabouts of terror, and dragon speedsters breathing noise and fire. As first responders, we are required to be extremely cautious when travelling to an incident, we are still required to follow road safety regulations; we are required to approach all highway intersections with caution even though we are travelling with lights and sirens. The problem however, is not with us as first responders, it is with what we see when we arrive on the scene.

The mangled vehicles, broken bodies, tears, and screaming relatives, accident investigators, and the whispers of the observers reporting how: “He was flying when he come round that corner!”; “Man can you smell he? He smell like a rum barrel!”, “Look how none of them can even stand up for the police to ask questions!”.

Once more we are the cross roads of another reality; the reality is that Crop-Over Festival will be finished in another week, but the pain and suffering of the relatives of the victims of careless accidents be ongoing for the rest of the year. The media have always commended and supported society at any of its events, however we have also cautioned society to be mindful of the responsibilities of drinking and driving.

We have always been the voice of caution and warning when mass crowd events are staged and an abundance of alcohol prevails among the young, who unfortunately account for more than half of all road traffic victims; either as a passenger or as a driver.

It is expected that many more will die before definitive action is taken to effectively manage the roads of this country. Let us hope that no more names will be recorded as part of the statistics of Crop-Over Festival 2013.

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