A cure for our culture of speed
For far too long, we have had an addiction with speed on our narrow roads. There has been a countless number of articles by others drawing attention to this, including The Royal Gazette’s own Drive for Change campaign that was launched three years ago.
In 2017, Walter Roban, the Minister of Transport at the time, said: “In 2015, Bermuda had the worst rate of injury in road traffic collisions of all 35 OECD countries”. In 2018, he stated: “Bermuda's death and injury toll on the roads is a national health crisis.”
The staggering number of crashes we have had on our roads and the relatively high number of fatalities requires a paradigm shift. In 2019, 1,794 people visited the hospital’s Emergency Department because of road traffic incidents. On average, nearly five people — 4.9 — had to receive treatment for their injuries every day throughout the year. These incidents do not include the minor “fender benders” or the ones that do not result in injury.
Our number of road fatalities in contrast to other countries is even more eye-opening. In 2019, Bermuda recorded an unfortunate seven deaths. For analysis purposes, this works out to 10.9 fatalities per 100,000 people, compared with United States at 11, Canada at 4.7, Britain at 2.6, Germany at 3.7, and Sweden at 2.2.
Let us pause for a moment. Bermuda with its 20mph speed limit has just as many people killed on our roads per capita as America, which has upper speed limits on their freeways at 75mph. Even more frightening, we have nearly three times the fatalities as Germany, a country that has the Autobahn, where certain routes have no speed restrictions.
Can our road traffic statistics get any more sobering? Yes, they can. Between 2010 and 2019, the ten-year average of fatalities per 100,000 people is 16.7. It just so happens that 2019 was the lowest number of deaths on our roads going back to 2010, tied with the year 2015.
Comparing our statistics against big countries is perhaps a little unfair. However, one does not need statistics to realise we need intervention as we see the madness on our roads with our very own eyes. Bermuda has developed a culture of speed that must be broken. It is time for some solutions, and I have a bunch of them.
More in-depth data on crashes and fatalities needs to be produced.
How can a culture change when they do not know the actual causes of the many traffic crashes and deaths? Is it drink-driving or the abuse of other substances, excessive speed, being distracted by a mobile phone, or driving without due care? Do more crashes occur in the day, or at night? I am sure it is a mixed bag, but which ones are the biggest factors? More information is needed to isolate the underlying issues.
It would also be helpful if we knew how much money was spent at our medical facilities as a result of crashes, and on the repairing of vehicles and road infrastructure.
Use speed camera technology.
It is great that Operation Vega was launched recently by the police. However, we have seen this type of movie play out before: there is a rash of accidents. The authorities respond by cracking down on speedsters for a limited time. A few months later, it is back to normal.
To change the bad habits on Bermuda’s roads, there must be a sustained deterrent presence that can operate around the clock every day, every month and year. Speed cameras are widely used in many countries; the technology is now standard and no longer considered state-of-the-art.
The London School of Economics and Political Science found speed cameras to be effective at reducing the number of crashes and road deaths. In Britain, from 1992 to 2016, speed cameras reduced crashes by between 17 per cent and 39 per cent, and fatalities by between 58 per cent and 68 per cent — within 1,600 feet of the cameras.
There have been plenty of mentions about speed cameras in Bermuda, but to date it has been lip service. There is no excuse why this technology has not been used to help save lives and to change behaviour on our roads. Britain has deployed about 7,000 cameras in its country. Surely, we have the contacts to tap into its knowledge and to share its experience.
Change our speed limits.
It is time for Bermuda to get realistic. I do not have any factual evidence, but it would be safe to assume that about 95 per cent of the time, people are exceeding the speed limit in Bermuda. It is time to change the 20mph (35km/h) upper limit on some of our roads. The present speed limit is adequate for Hamilton and some other small artery roads, but for the main driveways we should be looking at 30mph (50km/h).
Once speed cameras are deployed, any ambiguity of what is and what is not acceptable should be clear. That is, anything over the speed limit would earn a ticket. The more speed that exceeds the limit, the higher the fine. During my travels in Europe, I got a speeding ticket for doing 52km/h in a 50km/h zone.
Speed cameras work by either point of site, or the speed can be calculated by the average between two cameras. The latter is a much fairer system, as one may easily go over the speed limit at any one time.
Use smart traffic lights.
We have several frequent accident spots on the island. Exiting out of the MarketPlace parking lot at Heron Bay, for example, is an accident waiting to happen. I recognise Bermuda would like to maintain its unique look and charm, and not be cluttered with these types of devices. However, safety and saving lives must become the priority.
Smart traffic lights are known to reduce crashes, prevent pedestrian injuries and improve traffic flow. They are more intelligent than traditional traffic lights, as they can adapt and respond to changes in traffic patterns better and faster.
Install more streetlights.
It is great the lights on our roads have been upgraded with LED lights. However, there appears to be a significant number of dark spots when you travel on the roads at night. I am not certain if this is because of the narrow beams of the LEDs; nor do I know for certain if this has an impact on crashes.
Our streetlights are not consistent and dark-lit roads make your eyes experience vision sensitivity. This is amplified when a car that is travelling in the opposite direction has on its bright lights.
Internationally, there has been a significant amount of research that has been conducted regarding the connection between road lighting and safety. Consistent findings show well-lit roads reduce crashes and fatalities. The objective for street lighting is to provide the optimum level of safety and, from my perspective, Bermuda is falling short in this regard.
No doubt to improve safety on our roads, money will have to be spent. However, this should not be looked at just as an expenditure, but as a much needed investment for saving lives and reducing injuries. Fines could be increased to alleviate some of the capital costs. The infrastructure required to mount the cameras can also be used for expanding CCTV throughout the island in the future.
Although technology has come a long way, with the increased use of cameras that can check drivers for mobile-phone and red-light violations, the police would still have a role to play. However, instead of being the main deterrent, they could complement the technology with surprise ad hoc speed traps and other violations.
We have disturbing traffic numbers and the only way we can change behaviours is to have a plan that can be sustained for the long term, and one that can be scaled up to meet our ongoing requirements. Some will see it as punitive; however, the goal is to save lives and reduce injuries.
Stop the talk; there needs to be commitment and action.
• Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’ internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies), and the UK, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends