EDITORIAL: Safety takes a back seat

It was only a matter of time until there was a serious accident at that junction. And as many predicted, it was with a heavy truck hauling sand slamming into a bus with over a dozen passengers.  For years, people have been complaining that the junction at the Antigua and Barbuda International Institute of Technology (ABIIT) needs better marking and that the truck drivers hauling from High Point Jetty need to show greater respect for the established rules of the road.  We do not know if either contributed to the accident but the complaints are long-standing.

In this case, 18 passengers on a bus were rushed to the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) after a collision with the truck hauling sand and stones.  Judging by the pictures and the accounts from witnesses of the aftermath, everyone is lucky that the outcome was not worse.  Several people are said to have suffered multiple injuries, but fortunately, none were life threatening.  

The fault for this accident will be decided by the police, but the incident raises the road safety flag which must be acknowledged and addressed; especially as it relates to the large trucks on the road, their general condition and the security of their loads.  All too often we find ourselves behind these large trucks and are aghast at the condition of the equipment.  Bald tyres are common, but there are also cases where a tyre is missing on the rear, dual wheel set-up.  Without a load, the truck is obviously unstable in that configuration, and it should not be driven.  Very often too, the brake and indicator lights are non-functioning or so dirty that they cannot be seen – not even a glimmer. 

Who hasn’t seen a truck without a windshield or the headlights?  How are they allowed to operate on the road without a hassle?   We can only imagine what would happen if something were to enter the cab and interfere with the driver’s concentration.  Something as simple as a bug slamming into an eyeball or being force-fed down someone’s throat at 60 miles per hour.  As reflex takes over, so does speed and the bald-tyred truck with no headlights suddenly becomes an out-of-control, multi-ton missile.  Raising alarm bells about this type of scenario could be considered over-the-top or overreacting … if we have not heard or read of similar stories.

Then there are the unsafe loads.  Any and everything that can be loaded, or overloaded, into the back of a truck is put there, often, with no thought of safety.  No nets. No straps.  No restraint of any kind are employed to ensure that what is in the truck bed, stays in the truck bed.  Brush cuttings stick-out in all directions and often get strewn on the roads as speed increases and the wind removes a few branches and showers the road with leaves and other debris.   If it is not brush or garbage then you have to contend with aggregates.  Drive behind a truckload of sand and you can consider your car prepped for its new paint job as the sand granules pepper your car and seemingly strip it of paint. 

Now, we know that there will be a group of people who will say that we are complaining unnecessarily. They will say that it is better the drivers are driving rather than committing crimes, etc., and we agree (on the second point, not the first).  Yes, we are complaining but it is not “unnecessarily.” These are genuine safety concerns that need addressing, because while this particular incident did not cause any major bodily harm, it could have.  Plus, it did cause injuries and, at a minimum, a great deal of inconvenience.

Let’s be clear, we are not attributing any blame here and we are not saying that the equipment was unsafe or defective in any way.  We are simply using the incident to cast a light on a serious problem that occurs regularly on our roads and which has the potential for a devastating outcome.  The damage that can occur between two cars is one thing, however, the carnage that can occur between a fully-laden, heavy truck and a car is another.  Let us not look in hindsight, and say that we should have been more vigilant in enforcing proper safety standards on our roads when something major happens.  Rather, let us be proactive and ensure that the risks of something major happening is reduced. 

This brings us back to the whole concept of enforcement, or lack of it.  We are sure that there are rules, regulations and laws to cover all that we have discussed, either directly or indirectly, but, for one reason or another, they are not being enforced.  That leads to a free-for-all environment where heavy equipment owners and operators are allowed to ignore minimum safety requirements to increase profits.  All are at the risk of the truck drivers themselves, and others that share the road.

It is unfortunate that certain owners and/or operators will not acknowledge their responsibility regarding road and equipment safety, but if they do not willingly do so, then it is up to the authorities to do so forcibly, through citations, suspensions and other remedies as prescribed  in our laws.  If safety is not enforced, it will be ignored.

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