Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Roads to oblivion

Jamaicans have a very rough approach to driving. On most roads they drive fast whenever possible, loving to ride close behind the vehicle in front waiting to overtake and accelerate towards the next vehicle and start the manoeuvre again. Jamaican males sees cars as extensions of themselves and use them to make statements; this macho way of affirm their maleness is cutting many lives short. Road deaths are very high for a country of some 2 1/2-3 million people, about 300-350 a year. Most accidents involve cars. For the past 15 or so years, the gender breakdown shows that 81 % killed are males and 19 % females. Most of the dead were in their productive years. Children and the elderly have accounted for approximately 30 % of all road traffic accident fatalities over the last five years. Most accidents are due to reckless driving of some sort, and about 1/3 of accidents are found to be due to faulty tyres.

Today, on an otherwise uneventful drive from Mandeville to Kingston and back I saw again why road accidents are plentiful and why deaths are high, though amazingly I saw no dead or injured. First, I saw an articulated truck, jack-knifed on an uphill corner facing into the mountains. I can't even imagine what speed the driver was doing for him to lose control going uphill. Second, a car driving in front of us drove into a parked truck, as the driver appeared unable to see well as he glared into the sun. The rear corner of the truck just pierced the windshield of the car and was inches away from the driver's head. A very lucky escape and thankfully the car had only been moving at about 50 km an hour. Next, another truck had decided to try to reshape a hill and this time it had been "de-cab-itated"; the cab and parts of the chassis were strewn across the road. There was no sign that the driver had been hurt but oil and debris were on the highway.

Road conditions are not good and there is a permanent race that Jamaicans would win if it were an Olympic sport, and that is "patch up" road. Every few months roads are scraped and another thin layer of tar and stones goes on top of marl, waiting for heavy rain and traffic to wash it away again so that the race can restart. It provides good employment opportunities so I don't foresee any government changing soon this seemingly useless band-aid practice.

Road conditions are made more difficult by idiotic road maintenance crews, who seem to have about as much intelligence as a flattened mongoose. Imagine a road jam in the middle of the day on the highway from the capital due in part to patch-up works, but then made worse because the flag person was waving one line of traffic to the right of the work and the other the left. So far alright? But the left side traffic then was headed to a parked steam roller! So the drivers were at a dead end and of course wanted to back up to then join the freer flowing right side. Jamaicans have a way of saying "idiot" that seems onomatopoeic, they say "eejyat". And when an eejyat causes you problems for no reason it's a real saint who does not "cuss them out".

Jamaica launched a "Think before you drive" campaign a short while ago to help reduce the carnage on the roads. Within it a programme for the identification and reconstruction of "collision bad spots" was to be put in place by the National Works Agency, which had identified seven such spots island wide--a very low number. I don't think this "thinking" is making much headway in terms of driving attitudes. My last example from today spells that out. Two minibuses, both filled to bursting with passengers. Each one heading along Highway 2000 (a 2 lane by 2 lane freeway) at well over 100 kms an hour. Each racing side by side trying to overtake cars. Highway 2000 looks like a raceway so why not race on it. Only pure luck saved those nearly 30 passengers from a horrible and stupid tragedy. I can't tell if they were begging the drivers to stop or if the drivers had any notion that what they were doing was verging on kamikaze behaviour. They were also "eejyats".

The need to drive with due care and attention is another area where Jamaicans better wise up fast before they hit another self-destruct button.

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