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Argus road safety move at Berkeley

The Argus Group is tackling road safety head-on by implementing a graduated licensing programme for motorcycle riders at Berkeley Institute.

Group CEO Alison Hill was one of the panellists during a recent screening of the documentary A Piece of the Rock which investigates the carnage on Bermuda's roads as a result of reckless driving.

The film listed the top priorities needed for Bermuda's roads to become safer, including a graduated licensing programme to replace the skeletal training currently in place.

Recommended are random roadside sobriety testing, eliminating the requirement for officers to suspect wrongdoing before pulling over road users, and speed cameras that clock the licence plate numbers of speed offenders.

While the long-term aim is to see graduated licensing — beginning at age 16 and running for two years — becoming enshrined in legislation, Ms Hill has grabbed the bull by the horns in using private sector money to fund the island's first fully fledged programme.

Argus sent former motorcycle racing professional Antoine Richards to train to become a Royal Society of Prevention of Accidents-certified instructor and he is now qualified to train and teach a graduated licence curriculum in Bermuda.

Some 47 students have already signed up for the first set of classes, with a number of students on the waiting list. Berkeley — one of Bermuda's two public senior schools — was chosen with the aim of targeting those who are reaching legal road-use age. This age group is one of the most likely to incur road injuries. There were close to 13,000 injuries on Bermuda's roads between 2009 and 2015 and 75 deaths during the same period and is widely considered a national health crisis.

Ms Hill told The Royal Gazette: “If we had this many people injured or sadly dying due to a disease-based issue it would be top, front and centre. If this was Sars, can you imagine the hysteria that we would have?

“The main reason we are in this space is from a healthcare point of view. We have an ageing population, a declining birth rate, we have got increasing healthcare costs, it is unsustainable.

“Besides that, we are losing healthy, fit kids on the roads, so we have a tipping point in terms of the population and if we are not losing them — they are disabled or have some terrible injury that is going to incur more healthcare dollars.

“From our point of view and from our shareholders' point of view — from a private-sector point of view — doing anything we can to try and change that trend is essentially why we are approaching this. We have to contain healthcare costs.

“With some of the interactions I feel we can make, we can potentially flip this into a situation that solves the demographic problem rather than make it worse.

“We focus on sobriety testing and speed cameras and graduated licensing, but ultimately we have this ticking time bomb in terms of healthcare and the fact that we have a population that is increasing usage of healthcare resources rather than what they should be doing — offsetting or subsidising the older generation.”

The Argus Group's executive vice-president for property and casualty, John Doherty, has been heavily involved in getting the programme implemented at Berkeley, saying that while graduated licensing may be new to Bermuda, it is by far new in other countries. Bermuda does have Project Ride which requires no on-road experience prior to qualification.

Mr Doherty told The Royal Gazette: “Graduated licensing has been successful in many places including Canada, Britain and Australia. When they put it in place in Australia, they looked at the stats over a five-year period just after the immediate period after they initiated and cycle deaths had dropped off by 48 per cent.

“We have had Project Ride in place now for many years. It was an attempt at graduated licensing. The challenge was that it was watered down so much — there wasn't a lot of grassroots support. You have people, our youth, going around cones in a parking lot and then they are allowed out in the road.

“It doesn't prepare them for the road and it gives them a false sense of security. They pass it and think they are good for the road. With the Berkeley students, we do an evaluation on them to find out where they think their confidence level is. We expect that from the start of the training to the end of the training that the level will actually come off slightly because when you start, you think you are brilliant. Then, there is classroom work and then work on a closed circuit that is on a track and then people are taken out on the road for the rest of the time using two-way helmets. We believe in it. There will be follow-ups in six months and 12 months. Have you had any accidents or had to seek any medical attention? We want the community to be safer.”

While the Argus programme is currently only open to Berkeley students, Ms Hill hopes that other businesses might be inspired to fund further programmes before legislation, which is required to first be passed through the House of Assembly and then the Senate. The problem is immediate and this is one way to make an immediate impact.

She said: “We were one of the big supporters for A Piece of the Rock documentary — we sponsored the film and talked to the crew and said what can we do.

“Yes, the Government should do something about this, but there is a range of things the Government is focusing on, so what can we as a private sector business do today to drive and support that process? Doing the road safety training gives us data and statistics.

“We are just getting on with it, gathering the data which I'm sure will be hard to ignore.

“The constitution and legislation — there are things we can do and things that Government can do. How can we make this a top priority? Go out and lobby, be outraged, say it is unacceptable. If we can support the Government with data or acting as an advocate or sponsoring a pilot project, we will do our bit.”

Safety first: Alison Hill, Argus CEO, and John Doherty, Argus executive vice-president property & casualty (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published May 05, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 05, 2017 at 8:02 am)

Argus road safety move at Berkeley

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