The never-ending issue of road safety
The Royal Gazette headline on February 25, 2013 declared “Police to get tough on bad driving”. On Page 2, shocking photographs were published of motorbikes driving between lanes of traffic on East Broadway. Fortunately, the identity of the riders was masked by blocking out the eyes, saving them from public humiliation.
Most recently, we have the December 8, 2017 article, “Police boosting presence on roads”. Apparently no progress has been made since February 2013. That represents 57 months of aimless discussion, lack of action and lack of leadership regarding the road safety issue.
The police, government authorities and the Bermuda Road Safety Council continuously discuss road safety while doing nothing constructive to address the issue. Newspaper headlines, public awareness campaigns, “frequent accident location” signs and rumble strips, among other things, have all been admirably ineffective.
Fifty-seven months and the authorities and experts apparently still have no idea as to the relatively straightforward action that is required to deal with road safety.
Let’s start by asking a simple question of police commissioner Michael DeSilva and transport minister Walter Roban: why is the legal speed limit of 35km/h not enforced? Why does the police department ignore the law and instead subjectively enforce an arbitrary, unofficial limit of 50km/h, only a 43 per cent cushion over the legal limit?
Perhaps DeSilva and Roban can explain how allowing motorists to travel upwards of 43 per cent over the legal limit contributes to road safety. It must somehow contribute to road safety; otherwise, why would they allow it?
It is actually quite incomprehensible that the authorities do not grasp simply that not enforcing the speed limit is one of the two primary road safety issues. It’s in fact exceptionally hypocritical for the authorities to refer to the speed issue when the legal limit is ignored. It could actually be argued that the authorities are indirectly responsible for every road accident resulting from excessive speed because the speed limit is not enforced.
It should be quite apparent that Bermuda’s narrow, windy roads are not conducive to the unofficial speed limit of 50km/h. The authorities need to determine — perhaps with the input of expert advice that is lacking — a safe maximum and revise the legal limit.
The next step, if not obvious, is to then enforce the limit without an unofficial 40 per cent to 45 per cent cushion.
For the benefit of the authorities, it should be noted that a speed limit is a ceiling, not a floor, which means that motorists should actually be able to safely travel below the limit and not be encouraged to exceed it by non-enforcement and electronic smiley-face signs.
The second main road safety issue is passing/overtaking. One could conclusively argue that passing is the single-most dangerous activity, as it involves multiple vehicles and lanes. While a vehicle can speed in isolation, a vehicle attempting to pass involves many more variables directly associated with dangerous driving behaviour — for example, passing into oncoming traffic, passing on blind corners, passing between lines of vehicles, passing on the wrong side of vehicles.
Aggressive passing by bikes and cars has become the norm on Bermuda’s roads. Passing and speeding form a circular path of dangerous driving — vehicles speed to pass, and pass so they can drive faster. And, of course, the spin-off of overtaking is tailgating, a dangerous habit commonplace on the roads today that leads to many accidents, to which I can attest.
I have been hit twice by vehicles from behind in the past two months, in both cases the fault being 100 per cent with the other vehicle. The solution to the passing issue is as straightforward as enforcing the speed limit: make passing by all vehicles illegal.
As with excessive speed, Bermuda’s roads are not conducive to passing. Eliminate this unnecessary activity and the roads immediately become safer.
The added benefit is that it will also eliminate the subjectivity associated with enforcement of dangerous driving.
At present, motorists, especially cycles, engage in numerous dangerous driving activities that the police do not restrict for various reasons, which would include lack of police presence, but also because of subjectivity in defining a dangerous activity.
If passing is illegal, most of these activities could be restricted without exercising judgment. For the many motorists who would complain about a ban on passing, answer a simple question: what is more important, convenience — involving an unnecessary and dangerous activity — or road safety? If the answer is not clear, please refer to the Gazette article from December 17, 2014 regarding an accident caused by overtaking that resulted in Anthony Joinville having a leg amputated. That article should provide all the support that is required.
Much of the dialogue around road safety centres on fatalities and drink driving. While both are serious issues, neither should be the primary focus of the overall road safety issue. The focus has to be on speeding and overtaking. This is where the volume lies — numerous daily accidents that lead to injuries that often have a significant impact on quality of life, along with the associated healthcare costs and vehicle damage, which contributes to insurance costs.
The other obvious issue is enforcement. The police must be committed to road safety, and the fine/suspension system must be such that it provides a real deterrent. Fines should be standard based on speed ranges and, over a specific level, the vehicle should be impounded with an automatic suspension. Take away an individual’s vehicle, and the road safety message would be considerably clearer.
If it is not yet obvious, the general message that needs to be conveyed to the public is that driving is not a right but a privilege. If an individual will not drive responsibly, the privilege will be revoked. Zero tolerance for aggressive and dangerous driving is the only approach that will work. It is far past the time to stop meaningless discussion and take decisive action.
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