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A moral imperative

Bermuda’s road death figures make for uncomfortable reading, whether or not they are submitted to world analysts (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda has now recorded ten road deaths in less than six months. If the deadly trend continues, more than 20 people will have died by the end of 2023.

As has been noted all too often, if these deaths were murders, there would be an outcry and the police would be facing demands to use all of their resources to bring the crisis to an end.

But because these are road deaths, there is no sense of urgency. There is no outcry. It is treated as if this is completely normal.

It is anything but. On a per-capita basis, Bermuda’s roads are among the most deadly in the world. On a per-capita basis, 20 deaths in a year means Bermuda would have 31 road deaths per 100,000 people.

This would place Bermuda among the ten most deadly countries in the world, joining a dubious list led by Liberia (35.90) and higher than the Dominican Republic (29.30), typically considered to be the most dangerous place to drive in the Caribbean.

Bermuda prides itself on being a safe, sophisticated and highly developed country. This statistic contradicts that notion; Bermuda has no place on it.

The need for action is overdue — years overdue.

Before more people die, or are maimed for life, Bermuda needs to get a grip on the roads.

The island has a speed limit that has not changed in decades. It is universally ignored. If Bermuda is going to start obeying the speed limit, then it should set a reasonable speed limit, say 45km/h, and then it should follow it rigorously.

This means that that drivers who exceed the speed limit by 1km/h, should be held accountable for their actions. This must mean points off their driving licences, fines and road bans.

Penalties for speeding and other driving offences need to be increased as a deterrent. For several decades now, Bermuda has followed a policy of going easy on drivers because of concerns that repeat offenders and people who drive while disqualified are criminalised. Whether that was the case or not, the result has been increasingly dangerous roads and one of the highest rates of road deaths in the world.

The same approach needs to be applied to impaired driving. It is not clear if the 80ml limit is effective.

Serious consideration should be given to looking at a lower limit and stronger penalties for drink-driving.

Too many road deaths and collisions involve drugs or alcohol. Lowering the drink-driving limit would help. But it needs to be done in tandem with better public transport. Bus services are limited at night. It is often impossible to get a taxi from or to the East End and West End, and the cost can be prohibitive.

Without better public transport, drink-drivers are more likely to get on their bikes or behind the wheel. Whether better and more affordable public transport comes through increased government spending or subsidy, there would be a cost. But the Government’s first function is to ensure the safety of its people. There can be no better expenditure. It is a moral imperative.

Stronger penalties for all traffic offences does no good unless the law is enforced. This requires that the police need to increase the number of traffic officers on patrol.

Bermuda needs to finally bite the bullet and install fixed speed cameras. Every other country in the world uses them, or should, and yet Bermuda cannot seem to find a way to implement them.

Bermuda also needs to change the way it trains drivers. The reforms introduced some ten years ago were an improvement on the comically bad system of licensing and testing that preceded it, but the reality is that a written test and a couple of laps around the testing area at the Transport Control Department is in no way enough to ensure that riders are safe when they go on to the road for the first time.

The TCD test’s main requirement seems to be to ensure that riders can turn on their indicators and make a hand signal at the same time; never mind that this is the first and last time any of them will do it. What is criminal is that these riders have never driven on an actual road until they receive their licence. It is ludicrous that 16-year-olds have literally no idea what they are doing, then they go on the road. It is a miracle there are not more deaths.

The anomaly is that Bermuda has a stricter testing and licensing system for car drivers. It is true that cars can be potentially more dangerous to other road users, as well as to the passengers in the car. But the reality is that bike riders are far more vulnerable. It is no coincidence that virtually all road deaths involve bike riders or passengers.

Bermuda is in a crisis. Failure to act is all of our responsibility, but those with agency — the police and the Government — need to act and act quickly.

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Published June 30, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated June 29, 2023 at 2:46 pm)

A moral imperative

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