Just half of the drivers in Antigua and Barbuda wear a seatbelt – with men the biggest violators – a recent study suggests.
Around 50 percent of the 1,423 motorists observed wore the potentially life-saving belt. Women are said to be more likely to wear one, with two in three females seen using them, compared to 45 percent of men.
Minister of Works Lennox Weston said he was concerned by the findings that also discovered that the seatbelt-wearing rate was even lower for drivers of government vehicles, taxis and commercial vehicles with only 40 percent compliance.
“We cannot allow Antiguans and Barbudans to continue to put their lives and the lives of others in their vehicles at risk every time they travel on the national road network, especially since the government is investing millions of dollars to improve roadways,” Weston said in a release yesterday.
“These surveys were conducted on the six main roads under the government of Antigua and Barbuda’s road infrastructure rehabilitation project and the second road rehabilitation project and it is believed that seatbelt use is even lower in rural areas.”
His comments come against the backdrop of the launch of the UN Global Decade of Action for Road Safety which has set a target of 100 percent seatbelt compliance by 2030.
Worldwide research shows that wearing a seatbelt in the front seat reduces the risk of death by 45 percent and the risk of serious injury by 50 percent. Seatbelts protect the vital organs – the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and spleen – and prevent ejection. People who are not wearing a seatbelt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash.
An associated social survey of local road users shows that while there is high awareness of the safety benefits of seatbelts, there is low expectation of any consequence for failing to comply with the law. Sixty percent of male and 50 percent of female respondents agree that “there is not much risk of being caught by police for speeding on main roads”.
The online survey was facilitated by the Project Implementation Management Unit for the Ministry of Works and conducted by FRED Engineering, an independent road safety consulting firm based in Italy.
Given recent successes in addressing cellphone use, the government is now considering a range of options, including increasing fines, implementing enforcement and media campaigns.
Minister Weston concluded that “the cellphone success is likely to be due in part to the 2019 fine increase to $500”, adding that he will be working with his ministerial counterparts to ensure government workers strictly comply with national road laws.
The ministry’s Permanent Secretary Clarence Pilgrim said drivers of public transport vehicles have the lives of innocent passengers in their hands. He added that the ministry would be collaborating with the Bus Association and the Taxi Drivers’ Association to get seatbelt safety messages to their members and passengers.
Using traffic accident data from police for the period 2016-2019, the Ministry of Works estimates that the average annual economic cost of deaths and serious injuries crashes is around US$33million.