By Dr Neals J. Chitan
The two most hazardous weapons on the streets of Grenada in 2019 were the automobile and the gun, each creating record-breaking mayhem last year. Despite the low homicide rate as compared to some of its Caribbean neighbors, Grenada still posted a high of sixteen homicides in 2019 as opposed to its usual below ten counts.
According to the World Date Atlas on Crime Statistics, Grenada homicide counts for the period 2013, 2014 and 2015 were six, eight and six respectively, which reflects a relatively low-crime nation. However, 2019 closed with a major leap to 16, if not 17, the highest in ten years and a reason for major concerns.
Despite the weapon of choice for most of these homicides being the gun, there is another legal weapon taking the lives of Caribbean people at an alarming rate, with its incidences high on the list in Grenada. And that is the automobile.
Auto collisions are a definite major concern in Grenada as we see almost on a daily basis, the painful and deadly grip of twisted mangled metal on human bodies, creating a cycle of trauma and grief not only to the lucky surviving victims but to their families and that of the deceased. And so, this epidemic begs an honest unbiased look into what the causal roots maybe and a further look at mitigating factors to this cycle of tragedy.
On January 14, 2019, WEEFM GRENADA, published “Police record 17 accidents for the weekend,” an article that was meant to raise the national eyebrow and hopefully be a warning to motorists, while encouraging them to be more responsible in their use of the nation’s roadways. However, that didn’t abate the cycle of recurring collisions as the year progressed but ended with another year of record-breaking stats. And of course, 2020 started no different as within the first few days another young male driver succumbed to his injuries and became the first traffic fatality of the year in Calivigny, St George.
To try to piece together probable causes of the high rate of vehicular traffic accidents, we will have to take an objective look both into human behavior and national planning. Although all these incidents are created by vehicles manned by humans who must take responsibility for their actions, and who are frequently charged by police for their irresponsible driving behavior, we have to look deeper into other factors that may contribute to the outrageous accident rate in Grenada.
Firstly, we need to look at our roadways. The current roads in Grenada and if the truth be told, the wider Caribbean, were designed over a century ago with periodic maintenance and resurfacing whenever and wherever needed. These roads were designed to handle the then traffic flow of just a few hundred vehicles across the island in the early nineteen hundreds to a few thousand when I started driving in 1976, with my license plate recording P1563 on my 1973 Hillman Hunter.
I remember as boys playing games on the road and did not have to bother about oncoming cars for 15 or 20 minutes, especially on Sundays. However, coming back after 37 years to drive in Grenada, I am surprised to see that even on Sundays how long you got to wait behind a parked vehicle giving way to a line of oncoming vehicles. Grenada’s vehicle count has now grown in the tens of thousands and growing exponentially every day, but with the same design and road width. This issue lends to serious bottleneck traffic jams and congestion, creating impatience, delay and speed to make up lost time.
What is needed is a major redesigning and upgrading of our roads to meet the heavy traffic flow of the 21st century, if we hope to inch our way out of this predicament.
To add to the frustrating web of passenger vehicles on the road hustling in, out and the roundabout is tractor-trailers and monster dump trucks that feed the booming construction and commerce enterprises. Although contributing significantly to the economy, using the same anciently designed narrow roads with insufficient space to safely maneuver, they create traffic nightmares and send drivers running into bushes, drains and each other to avoid them. Not to mention the broken road pavements caused by their overweight cargo and further causing drivers to be dodging potholes while increasing the chances of collisions.
To this analyzing mixture, we must add the irresponsible, impatient and unethical behavior of local bus operators. I must applaud the “Traffic Warden” initiative of Commissioner Martin and the High Command of the RGPF, in holding them accountable for their infractions but in general, I see the foolish and irresponsible racing and driving of bus driver with passenger’s lives in their hands.
Then, it would be important to look at the speed factor. The 2001 Blockbuster film “The Fast and the Furious” has entrenched in our aspiring 21st-century drivers’ attitude the “Need for Speed,” by the way, another Blockbuster. Video racing games have inspired the excitement of speed, on-the-edge driving and risky maneuvers in teens who wait impatiently to execute these remote control moves when behind the steering wheel of what can be a deadly weapon.
It is important to note also that the roads we now negotiate were built and designed when ancient three-speed manual transmission vehicles were the norm. These vehicles barely had 75 horsepower under their hoods, drove at about 20 mph and were pretty unstable on the road. However, the caliber of vehicles has drastically changed with high-end European, Japanese and American sports cars kicking around with 200-400 horses under their hoods and their sophisticated six-speed transmissions. However, our roads have not drastically improved to match the performance and the result we sometimes see play out as we look at the human remains of mangled and sometimes limbless bodies lying amidst the rubble of these expensive and powerful vehicles.
Finally, despite the many factors we can identify, I like to address my final one, driving under the influence. Again, let me applaud the RGPF for its announcement of the coming Breathalyzer test for drivers. Like a gun, although invented for good, a vehicle can be a dangerous weapon if handled by people whose thinking process is compromised. Although I have heard it said in Grenada that there are drivers that can drive safely home when fully intoxicated, it is very foolish and irresponsible to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when under the influence of alcohol or any mind or mood-altering substance. In Grenada, it seems to be a normal practice for people to go to an event, drink themselves to a stupor and get behind the wheel, with no one objecting.
As I close this piece, let me reiterate unequivocally the fact that alcohol and drugs will impede your judgment, slow down your reflexes and increase your chance of accidents and death. My comments on this topic may be expensive to address, but if traffic fatalities are a real concern to be addressed we need to make the investment, cause it may be you next.