I would be honoured for you to grant me a small section within the most prominent newspaper to voice my concern on a topic that has been plaguing me for some time now. This is a matter of public policy concern that hardly gets any public discourse. I speak of the almost weekly carnage of road traffic accidents that plague our highways. I share common sentiments as many Belizeans on the issue of crime and violence within our country, and I applaud the efforts of the Police Department in addressing this situation. However, there seem to be limited efforts being done to address the carnage of traffic accidents on our highways and at times on the streets of our cities and towns.
Just as the murder rates are increasing, there is a continuous rise in the number of deaths as a result of road traffic accidents. At writing this piece on November 20, 2017, there are unconfirmed reports of the 3 deaths on the Hummingbird Highway. In fact, the social media hype surrounding accidents at the bridge between miles 31 and 32 on the Hummingbird Highway is what prompted me to write this piece. My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones due to traffic accident and pray for speedy recovery for the injured.
On March 13, 2013, The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Government of Belize launched the “Road Safety Project” which they claimed was a template for “improving road safety” in all of the Bank’s Borrowing Member Countries. As part of the agreement, the CDB is providing a loan of USD 7.248 million while the Government is contributing USD 1.596 million for the project. The project was intended to support interventions to build the country’s road safety management capacity, improve the safety of road infrastructure and improve post-crash care.
While we welcome this move by the government, the carnage continued. As part of this project the Ministry of Transport presented two fully loaded highway patrol vehicles to the media and the general public. These two vehicles were intended to patrol the George Price Highway between Belize City and Belmopan as part of a pilot project. However, while we welcome the sight of these vehicles on the highway along with the stationary speed monitors, the carnage continues. To this end, I believe these methods have provided limited results. Moreover, there are occasions when I would observe vehicles overtaking in full speed on the highways, the very vehicle that was there to slow us down.
Furthermore, I applaud the efforts of the Government of Belize on the improvement of the conditions on the highways, roads and streets, especially, recent works done on a section of the Hummingbird Highway with the impressive reflectors and reflective paint and signs that make it safer when driving especially at night. It is my understanding that similar works are scheduled for other highways. Infrastructurally, our country is developing.
However, I believe we falter in consequences of addressing the attitudes and behaviors of reckless drivers. Some may debate that better highways make way for more speeding and reckless driving which causes fatalities, but I believe if there are adequate signs and lights, if drivers are more cautious, and road safety infractions are held to the full extent of the law, there will be less fatal accidents occurring due to reckless driving.
In a recent television interview, Minister of State Aragon spoke about the stiffer measures that were being put in place to address the violence in Belize. Also, he spoke of more stringent legislations to address gang violence, etc. I recommend that equal level of attention must be placed to address traffic accidents in our country. Traffic-related legislations are antiquated and don’t adequately deter traffic fatalities. I cannot recall ever hearing anyone going to prison after being convicted of the crime of Manslaughter by Negligence.
While I agree that many Road Safety Project jingles are impressive, they are of little value if those who break our Traffic Regulations are not held accountable for their actions with more than a mere slap on the wrist.
While I make the call for more stringent legislations, law enforcement personnel must be provided with the necessary tools to make these legislations work. For many years we have heard that there is a provision in the law which allows the authorities to test for driving under the influence with the use of a Breathalyzer. However, an adequate number of these equipment was never provided; therefore we hardly hear about persons being stopped and a Breathalyzer is used on them.
I conclude by saying, a death is a loss to a family and it does matter to that family whether it was murder or as a result of a traffic accident, particularly at the hands of a drunken or reckless driver. I therefore call on the relevant authorities to address traffic fatalities with the same level of tenacity as they are addressing the crime and violence in Belize City. Traffic deaths are no less important; they have the same impact on a family, especially at the loss of the main provider.
I also want to challenge my fellow Belizeans to join in the discourse on this matter. Let us be as vocal and advocate for change just as we are doing when it comes to the crime and violence. Finally, I call upon all drivers, that at the moment we decide to drive, let us have complete regard to all other road users. The life we save might be our own and also that of our very own family members. While driving is a privilege, life is a gift that can never be replaced.
University of Belize student