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Road safety commitment needs to be seen in real dollars

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Action needed: plan must be evidence-led and targeted

While the One Bermuda Alliance welcomes initiatives to stop deaths and injury on our roads, it is imperative that the Government makes sure that necessary funding is released to ensure its new road safety campaign is effective.

The Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs recently announced details of the five-year Road Safety Plan 2018, “Operation Caution”, which, among other things, will attempt to reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 25 per cent.

The Government is clearly demonstrating its commitment and governance in taking steps to reduce the risks on our roads. However, I am concerned that the projected reduction in collisions and road deaths has been set at only 25 per cent.

While aiming for 100 per cent may be unrealistic, 25 per cent is far too low a number. Preventing serious injuries and death in road accidents requires a systematic, planned and well-thought-out strategy, in conjunction with support and buy-in from key stakeholders and the community in general.

I would be interested to know whether or not the Government conducted an analysis of our accident data, as this is essential to understanding, delivering and improving road safety. It provides a method for not only gauging those areas that are in need of safety-improvement measures, but it also provides for monitoring of the effectiveness of such measures.

Such an analysis lies at the heart of the strategy of any road safety plan and also ensures that decisions made regarding investment in the plan are evidence-led and targeted.

I would also like to see more details of the education component of Operation Caution, which is a critical component of the effectiveness of this plan.

I am interested in seeing exactly what the comprehensive education plan in the schools will entail. While I agree that road safety education needs to begin at a very young age, we also need to teach and adopt a lifelong learning approach to road safety because this will aid in the development of future generations of safer road users.

In this regard, I would expect to see a campaign that includes public messages, radio and television advertising, and extensive use of social-media platforms.

We must also think about the role played by our emergency services. It is their skills that make the difference between life and death. Accordingly, the Government must look to ensure that funding is available to ensure that there is a full complement of police, fire service and ambulance personnel that is suitably trained and at the ready.

On March 2, during the 2018-19 Budget debate, the Government said it had increased the grant to the Bermuda Road Safety Council from $11,000 to $25,000.

I said at the time: “I know that they [Government] are increasing the grant, but I just wonder whether or not, with all of the road traffic accidents that we have had — and I know we have got Project Ride and all of those kinds of things — is that enough of an increase for the grant, for the Road Safety Council? [I wonder] whether we should consider adding more money to educate people about the need to be safer on the roads.”

In his reply, according to Hansard, transport minister Walter Roban’s reply was: “The question was if the $25,000 was enough. We feel that it is enough on the basis that the Road Safety Council only had $11,000 last year, so it is more than doubled.

“It is our expectation that they will be using that funding to advance promotion of campaigns to affect the behaviour of persons on the road, to begin to address that in an aggressive manner, but also to support the Government’s campaign to deploy roadside sobriety testing.

“Those are the two chief priorities for the Road Safety Council this year, to do something to address the deaths on our roads. And that means going right after how we all behave on the roads. Those are their two chief priorities. We are going to deploy the roadside sobriety testing. We want them to get out in the public and talk about that and educate people about that, and also address the issue of the deaths and how our behaviour as users of the roads can be changed and how we need to change them.”

While I appreciate that the budget increase from the previous year is much needed, I am just not convinced that the type of hard-hitting, educational and enforcement campaign that is required can be done with that sort of money.

This is a five-year plan. Maybe the Government will be partnering with private industry in terms of additional funding.

More than $22,000 is being spent from April 17 to June 30 on a PR campaign to promote Bermuda as a premier fintech jurisdiction, but it appears only $25,000 has been allocated over 12 months to save lives and stop terrible injuries to hundreds of people on our roads every year.

I appreciate the need to ensure that the Government has to do what is necessary to boost our economy and attract business. But it is equally, if not more, important to have sufficient funds allocated to allow the Road Safety Council to develop and maintain a programme that ensures that our citizens and tourists are well educated about road safety.

As I said, I support this initiative and look forward to seeing the Government’s action plan, setting out the various steps it will be taking. A safe road system that includes a continuing education campaign, progressive legislation and systems, and an effective enforcement and justice system will reduce greatly the number of fatal and life-altering accidents occurring on our roads.

Leah Scott is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Minister of Transport and the MP for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)

Action needed: Leah Scott is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Minister of Transport and the MP for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)