The number one contributing factor is excessive speeding on the highways, according to information from the Department of Transport.
With the increase of Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) over the past two weeks, which have claimed multiple lives, The Reporter decided to take an in-depth look at the situation and spoke to Peter Williams, operations officer for the Department of Transport, who informed that about two dozen individuals have succumbed to injuries sustained during road traffic accidents across the country for this year.
“From the data that has been gathered, we have four main factors. The first two are speeding and improper overtaking. Often drivers choose, for some reason, to overtake when approaching a curve or a hill and that is very detrimental to their safety and that of other road users,” Williams informed.
“Thirdly, we have poor vehicle maintenance,” he added. “A lot of people are operating their vehicles without having the correct pressure in their tires or ensuring that all the necessary fluids are in their vehicles. Without ensuring that the vehicle has proper lighting and so on the vehicle is not properly maintained and road-ready. Lastly, there is the use of alcohol and drugs while operating or driving a motor vehicle.”
Additionally, according to Williams, while drivers are aware of the dangers of speeding, and improper overtaking, their utter disregard for those considerations have been simply charted down to “behavioral issues.” With that observation being made, Williams said that the Department has decided that it would be better not to address the situation only from an enforcement standpoint but also from an educational standpoint, so that road users and drivers can become more aware of their actions, and the impacts that it can have on themselves, their loved ones, families and the community on a whole. By doing that Williams says that the department hopes that road users can have a deeper understanding of the need for road safety in Belize.
We also found out that over the past years the department has been collecting data on RTA’s in the country. The data indicate that RTA’s would usually occur on Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays. Usually, those would likely occur around the 5:00 p.m. rush hour, 7:00 p.m., and midday on weekends. The collection of these vital data is instrumental in assisting the department to strategically and effectively deploy its officers.
But even as the DOT is noting a significant decrease in road-related fatalities, since the commencement of the Road Safety Project in Belize, ranging from over 400 in 2017, 49 in 2019, and 21 (thus far) in 2021, their data is indicating that majority of those road traffic accidents are occurring on the Phillip Goldson Highway. Williams told our newsroom that apart from all of the other contributing factors mentioned above, to some extent infrastructure does play a role in RTA, specifically the Phillip Goldson Highway which readers would know is lacking proper maintenance, pedestrian, markings, signage, and even lighting.
We asked Williams to weigh in on whether he thinks that an upgrade of that particular highway will fix or increase the problem. “I can tell you that it can be perceived that because the roads are nicer we have more people speeding. Of course, you do have a small fraction of the population who would want to take that risk. But the truth of the matter is that the majority of our road users are seemingly more comfortable on these roads and we have seen a significant decrease because of these infrastructure upgrades. Of course, you will still have those who want to speed but the vast majority of road users are now more comfortable and safer when driving on the road at night or during the rainy weather.”
But even as the Phillip Goldson Highway is in desperate need of a facelift, Williams said that the Department will be taking a targeted approach to respond and try to preempt some of the issues that are occurring on Belize’s highway. He noted that one of the key factors that the Department has realized that they need to focus on is training for its officers.
The training, according to Williams, is in an effort to ensure that their officers are properly trained to address any type of incidents on the highways. Those training sessions include but are not limited to training officers on how to properly use breathalyzers and even speed guns on the highways. Furthermore, the Department intends to strengthen its collaboration with sister agencies such as the Belize Police Department in an effort to conduct joint operations thereby reducing the strain on their already strained resources. Lastly, Williams said that the department also intends to follow through with the prosecution of offenders.
“I want to encourage all road users, not just drivers, to be more cautious when on the road we have to share the road and we have to be cognizant that others use it as well so we have to be respectful and mindful of other persons who use the roads for various reasons. For example, we have farmers who use the roads to go to their farms, we have the larger trucks transporting their goods and so we cannot take it for granted that everyone who is on the road is an experienced driver and so we have to be defensive drivers and be mindful of other road users,” said Williams.
He also touched on the importance of using seatbelts, which according to Williams is extremely useful in decreasing the risk of drivers or passengers being flung out of a vehicle upon impact. Williams closed off by encouraging road users to slow down when traversing the highways, to adhere to the speed limit, ensure that their vehicles are in the proper working condition and that they are serviced to time and lastly to ensure that toddlers are properly secured in cars seats before takeoff. He also asked that all passengers wear their seatbelts while traversing the roadways.