By Latrishka Thomas
With the goal of achieving 100 percent seatbelt compliance by 2030, the National Road Safety Council is lobbying for seatbelt fines to be increased.
Chairman of the Council Clarence Pilgrim told Observer that this is because the Cabinet-appointed body is not satisfied with the results of a seatbelt observation survey conducted in February this year.
He revealed that “within that survey … 1,423 drivers along with 392 front seat passengers … we noticed that only 50.8 percent of one in two drivers wore their seatbelts and basically just 41.1 percent of front seat passengers wore seatbelts”.
“Now this is really not acceptable, particularly since it is a proven scientific fact that the wearing of seatbelts saves lives,” he opined.
In addition, Pilgrim — who is also the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works — shared that female drivers appear to be more compliant than males with the results showing that “63.9 percent of female drivers versus 46.2 percent of male drivers wore their seatbelt”.
A further breakdown of that survey indicated that “government vehicles had the second lowest rate which was 38.9 percent, while drivers for private cars were 54 percent and taxi drivers had the lowest rate which was 37.5 percent”.
As a result of this study, Pilgrim propounded that the fine should be increased.
“The fine for not wearing your seatbelt is $150 and we believe that that fine should be increased to $500 … particularly in light of the fact that when you have a fine for the use of a cellular [phone] while driving is $500 at least, there will be some degree of parity in that sense,” he stated.
However, before that change can be enforced, the matter has to be taken to the Cabinet, but first “we are taking it to sensitise the stakeholders of the National Road Safety Council to make sure that there is consensus. As a matter of a fact, we believe we now have consensus, so the next step since we are a Cabinet-appointed council, we definitely have to report our findings back to Cabinet and then from there we see how we can go to the Attorney General’s Office with respect to our recommendations,” Pilgrim added.
According to a press release from the Project Implementation Management Unit (PIMU) in the Ministry of Works sent out in May, global 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 from vehicles in the event of an accident. People who do not wear seatbelts are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash.
Using road traffic crash data from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda for the period 2016-2019, the Ministry of Works estimated that the average annual economic cost of deaths and serious injuries crashes is about US$33million.
However, this did not take into account the ongoing suffering experienced by many accident victims and their families.
An associated social survey of road users showed 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 males and 50 percent of female respondents agreed that there is not much risk of being caught by the police for speeding on main roads.
The online survey was facilitated by the PIMU in the Ministry of Works and conducted by FRED Engineering, an independent road safety consulting firm based in Italy.