Editorial: The road ahead

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Let us start by stating that we do not know the circumstances surrounding the recent vehicle accident that claimed the life of Adermi Williams – Antigua and Barbuda’s seventh road fatality of the year.  Therefore, we will make no comment on the cause or place blame towards any person or thing.  What we do know is that vehicular accidents are very preventable and it should not take a tragic incident, like the untimely death of Adermi, to jolt us to this realisation.
It would seem that every time there is a road fatality or serious vehicular accident, the country wakes up to the fact that we do not do enough to prevent the preventable. We could point to the lack of education on proper road etiquette and poor habits, such as speeding, but that would be the easy way out.  We could also point to inadequate road signage and dilapidated road infrastructure, but these are known factors and should therefore always be taken into consideration in the way that we drive.  What we should do is genuinely reflect on our individual road habits and apply some common sense to the way that we conduct ourselves on the road.
Without local statics at hand, we will look at the top three causes of accidents on the road in the United States of America.  What you will quickly notice is that none of the top three are beyond the control of the individual operating the vehicle.  The top three (from #3 – #1)  are:  drunk driving, speeding, and distracted driving. 
Ask most people, like we did in an informal, unscientific poll, and they would probably have guessed that speeding was number one. However, distracted driving continues to top the list, and with everyone’s need … sorry, make that obsession to stay connected, we suspect that this number one spot is not in jeopardy of being lost any time soon. 
Distracted driving covers a wide gamut of behaviour including talking and messaging on the phone, eating, reading, reaching for an object inside a vehicle, looking at an event outside the vehicle, personal grooming, and even simply talking to other occupants of the vehicle. Statistics show that distracted drivers who use a hand-held device are four times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who pay attention to what is happening on the road.  Even worse, drivers who text message (this includes Whatsapp and Facebook messenger and the like) while operating a motor vehicle are 23 times more likely to get into an accident. Twenty-three times!
Yet, we continue to engage in bad habits, all because of our obsession with speed.  Speed to answer the latest “ding” on our phone and speed to get from point A to point B.  The irony is that this obsession with speed is contrary to our culture.  We are supposed to be a laid-back people who do not stress about the small things in life.  Why do today what we can do tomorrow?  Sure, that is a stereotype but let’s face it, punctuality is not our forte.  It appears that we don’t mind being late for any and everything but at the same time, we cannot dream of being tardy when it comes to answering a message or a phone call – even when driving.  All this while speeding to our destination.
As we just pointed out, we know that in most cases we are not speeding because we are late, because lateness does not bother us. So, we must be speeding because our judgement is impaired or simply because we love speeding. Speeding, however, is the thing that kills. An accident may be caused by a distracted or drunk driver but the damage is typically caused by the speeding.  
It is a matter of physics. A mass moving at a high rate of speed has greater energy than one moving slower.  When that mass impacts with another (with its own stored energy), the energy is dispelled and it is that energy which causes the damage.  Put more simply, if two snails collide, the damage is minimal. If two bullets collide, the damage is significant; even though the snail and the bullet may weigh the same. 
We doubt that any of this is “new” information to anyone. We are all aware of the dangers of speeding and the risks of using our mobile devices while driving.  The problem is that we continue with these and other bad, dangerous habits knowing that we are endangering our lives, those of our passengers and others on the road.  Why is that?  Drinking and driving is one thing; that is partly cultural and it needs to be tackled before it happens because once a person’s reasoning and abilities are impaired, well, they are impaired.  It is why, education is key to reducing or eliminating drunk driving. 
Speeding and attempting to multi-task are also of concern.  We are cognisant and fully aware, yet we continue to do what we know to be wrong and extremely risky.  Is it the adrenalin rush of speed?  Okay, but the addiction cannot be so great that it cannot be satisfied at a race track — of which there are two in Antigua and Barbuda — to satisfy different types of driving. And when it comes to distracting yourself while driving, ask yourself, can’t the call or message wait the few minutes until you reach your destination? Nowhere is that far in Antigua and Barbuda.  And if it can’t, will the two minutes it would take to pull over and deal with the communication safely impact your arrival time so greatly?
Every time there is a tragedy on our roads, we feign sober reflection and then we do nothing about it.  This time, Adermi lost his life and others were injured.  The next time, it could be you if you are not alert and focused on the road ahead. There is nothing so urgent that it can’t wait a few minutes while driving.  It did before you had a phone in your car.

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