It’s very disturbing, having to watch the news and see a tragic or fatal accident almost every single week. What is even more heart- wrenching are the reactions and comments of the families left behind.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal but love leaves a memory no one can steal”. This was the outpouring of the John family, the latest to suffer the loss of loved ones on the Saint Lucia’s roads. On Wednesday, the Star published the story of brothers Charles and Linton John, who were the latest statistics of road deaths in Saint Lucia. Their pick-up van, which was heading to Castries, slammed into a parked truck on the Castries-Bexon Highway. The two brothers were returning home from a family dinner in Varnard, Roseau when the accident occurred. Six other occupants were seriously injured and admitted and treated at the Victoria Hospital.
In the wake of this latest accident, the constant cry for better road safety measures has become an even more resounding theme. One does not have to be an Einstein to realize that the television and various media advertisements, and pleas from local authorities and government officials are insufficient in helping to curb the attitudes of certain drivers and to make the road ‘safer’ for all citizens.
The STAR sat down with members of the Fire and Police Departments to obtain a better understanding of the rate of accidents in Saint Lucia and in particular the number of road fatalities. Speaking with Special Police Constable Nadia Alexander, Officer at the Traffic Department of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force, she confirmed that there have been 562 accidents reported for this year up until now. Of this total, 18 of them were fatal and as a result 24 deaths have been recorded, with 4 of them being due to motorcycle crashes. Compared to last year, there were a total of 661 reported accidents, and 15 of those were fatal. This means that there has already been an increase in number of road deaths for 2013, and there are still eleven days to go in the year.
Alexander explained that over the years, the RSLPF has undertaken various strategies to help curb the occurrence of accidents in the country.
“ We have focused on educating not only drivers and road users but also pedestrians as well. Initiatives like school lectures, meetings with the bus drivers’ association and driving instructors on the island are steps that have been taken in the past and will be continued in the future.
When asked about the RSLPF’s plans for implementating better road safety in the future, Alexander stated that they are trying to reintroduce the use of speed guns.
“ We had speed guns in the past, but those are expired and we are unable to use them anymore. Although they are costly, we are looking to get new ones as soon as possible. Also we are looking to curb the use of cell phones while driving, which includes both texting or answering calls.
Alexander also wanted to reiterate the call for drivers to use caution while using our nation’s roads. “ I’m appealing to drivers to be very careful, especially this Christmas season. Please pay attention to your alcohol consumption and encourage and speak out when you realize other drivers are driving unacceptably. Also to the motorcyclists, please wear your helmets whether you are taking a short ride or venturing on a long trip.”
The STAR also had a conversation with the Deputy Chief Fire Officer Lambert Charles of the St. Lucia Fire and Emergency Department. He mentioned that the three main causes of accidents in Saint Lucia are driver error, which includes speeding, poor judgment and drunk-driving. Also road conditions which can be affected by the weather and cause vehicular malfunction, for example brake failure.
Charles also related the statistics of their response to road accidents in the country. From January 1 the Department has attended to a total of 186 vehicular accidents, and 30 for the month of December to date. He explained that the number of accidents on island have two negative impacts on the staff.
“ The staff is being traumatized by the regular exposure to traumatic incidents and injuries. In such cases there is need for counseling, as they have to keep suppressing these horrific experiences and over a period of time they are viable to ‘burst’. We have had experiences where, a member of staff drove the ambulance to an accident scene and could not drive it away because he was overcomed by what he saw.”
The second negative impact that the department is faced with is a depletion of their resources, supplies and equipment. The original intention of the fire service was to basically deal with fire related emergencies.
“Ambulance services were not our main focus, but over time that has changed and now ambulance responses represent 90 per cent of our total emergency responses. The constant requirement of replenishing our supplies and having them readily at our disposal is not what we want. Most of what we use on the ambulance are disposable items, bandages, dressings, and once they are used we throw them away. So we have to be constantly replenishing and there is a cost to that and the change has not been made in terms of the budgeting and allocations to deal with that kind of thing.