Accidents do not happen; they are caused

The relief was communicated in the voice and choice of words of one police officer last week as he reported the local daily traffic statistics for two consecutive days. He told the nation that there had been a reduction in the number of accidents investigated by the traffic department: four, as opposed to the previous day’s seven.

The fact is, for four smash-ups to be recorded on any given day on this 108-square mile island seems to be a bit much, but seven is bordering on extreme. However, these days, the proliferation of accidents range from minor to very serious, and many of the encounters also result in grave or life-threatening injuries and sometimes the demise of the occupants of the vehicles or pedestrians involved.

The news media often reports the stories of the unfortunate incidents, complete with images. Long afterwards, the debris and the yellow markings on the scene remain — sad remembrances for relatives and friends who sometimes leave symbols to memorialise their lost loved ones.

The Traffic Department’s statistics for 2009 have shown that there was a total of 1,617 accidents — 501 more than was recorded for 2008. However, while the 2008 records showed there were 10 fatalities, there were only six road deaths last year; and out of 193 injuries, 32 were described as being serious.

Based on those figures, one can reasonably conclude that our drivers are not exercising due care and attention when using the roads. Excessive speed, especially in zones where signs displaying the prescribed speed limit are in plain view, has been found most times to be cause at the root of the accident. More often, too, when compared to any other representative group, offenders and victims in these smash-ups are young adults.

So, whenever a serious accident occurs, the nation collectively laments the lost potential of a promising life that has been cut short. Most of all, we warn others, especially the young, to learn from the fateful mistake of their peers and to be ever mindful of their passengers and other drivers when using the roads.

But there seems to be that feeling of invincibility that surrounds young people; that thrill that they get from embracing life and all the excitement derived from living on the edge; of throwing all caution into the wind, and going that extra bit on a dare that says nothing untoward will befall them.

Only those who have been young can fully appreciate the carefree attitude of youth — the actions that can eventually prove to be detrimental to their health.

The truth is, all young people do not fit smoothly into this carefree mould, as there are many who show wisdom beyond their years. The reverse reveals that some adults lack the maturity and skills that require them to carefully manoeuvre a vehicle and make good judgments under certain circumstances. Adults, too, have been found to be responsible for many serious accidents.

The police and other NGOs have taken great pains to educate the populace about safe driving practices, deploying valuable resources in numerous ongoing campaigns that have spanned years.

One such message is that people need to ‘buckle up’, as many times victims who sustain serious injuries in crashes have neglected to do that one small thing (using a seatbelt) that could have prevented their being ejected through the vehicle’s windscreen, for example.

Another careless habit adults and parents practice is that of having their babies, toddlers and young children riding on their laps or sitting unrestrained in the front seats of moving vehicles. On the other hand, it’s amazing how these same parents conform to the traffic laws of other countries that require children under 12 to ride in the back seats, fully strapped in.

Drivers on a whole can do a lot to reduce the accident statistics for 2010, if they would only take time to observe what is happening around them, obey the laws and exercise common sense when negotiating the roads. For example, overtaking a long line of vehicles and then practically forcing other drivers off the road to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle, is just plain foolish and selfish behaviour. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and engaging in lengthy cell phone conservations are two activities that would distract drivers from focussing their full attention on the road.

It is also a safe practice for drivers to make sure a junction is clear before proceeding, especially when traffic lights are not functioning.

One suggestion to the traffic department is to deploy more personnel to patrol the streets and highways as a means of enforcing the traffic laws. The system of ticketing dangerous drivers and imposing stiffer penalties for traffic offences should become more commonplace as a deterrent. The bottom line is a more vigilant police presence on the roads is an urgent need to address the situation and reduce the number of traffic accidents.

Although it was meant to serve mankind, a vehicle can become a deadly weapon if the rules of the road are not adhered to.

Drive safely; the life you save might be your own.