When Natural Disasters or Negligence Cause Accidents
This week Dominicans continue to mourn the loss of two young men, national football coach Kirt Hector and footballer Noran Jno Hope who perished last week in an unfortunate road accident. Hector and Jno Hope were driving to Roseau to join the rest of the Dominica football team scheduled to participate in the revived Windward Islands Football tournament.
In the early morning of Friday 19th April, Hector's vehicle plunged into a ravine because the road on which he was travelling had subsided due to heavy rains. The accident occurred on the section of the road at Pond Casse that leads to the Eastern District. Another footballer, Jocelyn Prince, survived the accident and is now a patient at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Now, you ask, what has that accident to do with road safety and how could we have prevented it. We are of the view that accident and many others could have been avoided if Dominican engineers observed basic safeguards in the construction of roads and bridges. In fact, Severin McKenzie, a professional architect, came to that conclusion in an article entitled: Avoiding Destruction: Why so much damage? McKenzie suggested that the massive destruction that occurred during Hurricane Ophelia in 2011 was caused by obstructions of waterways, inadequate culverts, debris stuck under bridges and the construction of bridges without consideration for the free flow of water. In other words, the rains caused massive damage because of negligence and carelessness. The accident of two weeks ago fits neatly into that category. In fact, the number of fatal road accidents that has occurred in Dominica during the past few years and the dangerous driving that we experience on our roads every day has generated much discussion about the need for the more efficient implementation of the country's road safety regulations.
Though the number of deaths that occur here due to accidents may seem miniscule, we are of the view that given our extremely lax road safety standards and our poor roads only God knows why there are not more and frequent fatal injuries on our roads.
On an international level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that traffic accidents have become a global public health crisis and chose the slogan "Road Safety is no Accident" as its theme for World Health Day a few years year. According to the WHO, each year hundreds of persons die in traffic accidents and thousands more are injured. The economic impact of traffic accidents on developing countries was estimated to be approximately US$65 billion a year to include the cost of hospital care, rehabilitation expenses, the impact of absence of skilled workers from the work force, increases in insurance premiums and replacement of vehicles.
Two years ago Dominica and the rest of the world observed the of launching of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2011 to 2020, declared by the United Nations General Assembly .This was in recognition of the fact that deaths and injuries on the world's roads are increasing and have reached crisis levels.
Each year, according to the UN, about 1.3 million people lose their lives due to road traffic accidents and it is projected that this figure could rise to 1.9 million deaths by 2020, if remedial action is not taken. The UN estimates that road traffic accidents are the major cause of death of young people aged 15-29 years worldwide. Dominica's Ministry of Health has reported that motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death among young persons aged 15-24 years and was the second leading cause of death for persons aged 25-44 years. .
Road safety in Dominica, therefore, has to be seen as an important policy issue and government and civil society need to prioritise measures to improve road safety when they formulate plans for the economic and social development
As we stated earlier, given our low level of adherence to basic safety standards, traffic accidents should be occurring here more regularly. Undoubtedly, there is few of what the experts call proper "street furniture" in Dominica. These include traffic lights and clearly marked pedestrian crossings and barriers. Dominica may be the only Caribbean country without a single traffic light. Additionally, there is no system of training, certification and re-certification driving instructors in Dominica. Anyone, it seems, who holds a valid driver's licence can perform the role of a driving tutor and conceivably may transfer his bad driving habits to his student.
In addition, regulations for the use of safety devices such as seat belts are not enforced and dangerous practices such as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol seem to have become the norm.
Then, there is the poor condition of our roads. These roads are generally extremely narrow and are constructed with regular hair-pin bends and blind corners. Though road safety experts are of the view that road conditions are not the major causes of accidents, we believe that our roads surfaces do not inspire confidence in our road users, and that lack of confidence increases the risk of accidents.