With the Christmas holidays proving to be the deadliest period on Jamaican roads, Lynford Reece, senior manager – Distribution and Marketing, JN General Insurance and road safety advocate, is urging road users to exercise extreme care in order to preserve lives and reduce any further burden on the healthcare system and economy.
“The festive holiday is usually associated with the consumption of alcohol at social events. It’s easy for persons to overindulge in drinking because many persons are doing it. Several road safety studies indicate that excessive alcohol intake is a major contributor to driving impairment leading to motor vehicle crashes,” Mr Reece assessed.
Statistics provided by the Road Safety Unit in the Ministry of Transport and Mining show that over the past 20 years, 41 fatalities have occurred on Christmas Day making it the deadliest holiday in Jamaica. Last December alone, there were 56 fatalities, the highest ever for the month of December, including four deaths on Christmas Day and five on Boxing Day. New Year’s Day accounts for another high toll. From 2001 to 2022, a total of 34 people have died on New Year’s Day alone.
Road crashes drain the Jamaican economy. Not only does it directly affect productivity and labour through the hundreds of lives it takes annually of people in their prime years, it costs the health sector approximately $2.6 billion per year to treat injuries related to crashes and collisions, according to a 2017 study of road injury expenses by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the JN Foundation.
“The sad reality is that motorists are often aware of the dangers of drunk driving, but sometimes do not heed the precautions, while others underestimate the effects of alcohol on the body. Persons should never be tempted to go beyond their limit especially if they will be driving. Should you doubt your ability to drive carefully, get someone to drive you home, ride with someone or call a taxi.”
Mr Reece also pointed out that event hosts can help to keep roads safe this Christmas period.
“Having a variety of non-alcoholic beverages will help guests to reduce their alcohol intake. Also exercise discretion when serving persons alcohol especially if you observe they may have consumed enough. In the end, you would want to know that your guests arrive home safely,” he advised.
The World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation produced a report which shows that an alcohol impaired driver is 17-times more likely to crash than a sober person. The report also highlighted the effects of alcohol to include reduced attention and alertness, slower reflexes, impaired coordination, reduced muscle strength, considerably slower reaction time, impairment of some visual functions, impaired balance and movement, and diminished patience.
The road safety advocate further related that while some crashes are attributed to alcohol impairment, other factors such as exhaustion, stress and nighttime driving, which tend to be prevalent during the Christmas holidays, are also contributors.
Tips for Driving Safely During the Holiday Season
Mr Reece shared the following tips:
- Don’t drink and drive. This cannot be over emphasised. You will save your life and the lives of others as a result.
- Observe speed limits. Speeding is never worth the risk. Not only will you avoid a traffic ticket, but your vehicle will be spared from being wrecked or from damaging someone else’s vehicle.
- Wear a seatbelt. Studies show seatbelts can lower the risk of fatality for passengers in front seats by up to 45 per cent. Encourage rear seat passengers to also wear seatbelts. In the event of a crash, unbuckled passengers can be thrown from their seat, causing major injury.
- Ensure the vehicle is well maintained. Fluids should be at sufficient levels and tyres should be in good condition and properly inflated. Vehicles that are well-maintained are not only more reliable, but also safer.
- Avoid drowsy or stressed driving. Ensure you get sufficient rest and be mindful of medications being taken that can cause drowsiness. If you have a far distance to travel, start out early so you can return early.
- Avoid distractions. These include using a cell phone, eating or drinking while driving. These increase your risk for a crash. Where possible, use Bluetooth technology if you need to talk on your phone.
Mr Reece maintains that if road users are intentional about exercising care on the road, this could help to keep roads safer.
“Whether you are pedestrian or motorist, road safety is everyone’s responsibility. Just being patient, courteous and considerate can make a big difference in eliminating road fatalities,” he advised.