Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dr Lucien Jones bats for road safety

Dr Lucien Jones as he announced his council's latest initiative - the inter-parish road safety competition. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Observer column | Jean Lowrie-Chin | Monday, September 28, 2009

Of the seven children who died as passengers in motor vehicle crashes last year, not a single one was using a protective device - neither a seat belt nor belted child car seat. Road crashes are the second leading cause of violent death in Jamaica.
Each year, hundreds of scheduled surgeries in our public hospitals have to be postponed when crash victims are rushed to hospitals in need of urgent care.

These are the facts that have turned Dr Lucien Jones, convenor and vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council, into an evangelist for more responsible road use.
"This is a very serious national issue," says Lucien. "Besides the obvious tragedy of each road death, every year scores of families are plunged into poverty by the loss of their main breadwinners."

Ever since 1993, when as president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, he was invited by the late Professor Sir John Golding to canvas support in the medical fraternity, Lucien Jones has been passionately promoting awareness and legal reforms towards increased road safety.

As the founder and head of the Mona Rehabilitation Centre, Professor Golding had become distressed at the increasing number of patients ending up as physically disabled as a result of vehicle crashes. "The National Road Safety Council was his initiative," says Lucien. "He organised a group of us to meet with then Prime Minister Michael Manley and invited the PM to chair the council. We were delighted when the PM agreed and immediately established an office within a week. Succeeding prime ministers have continued this tradition, and this has worked wonders for our programmes."

We may believe that road safety is a no-brainer, but the challenge is to transmit this message to our young drivers. "This is not just a Jamaican problem," says Lucien. "Worldwide, the leading cause of death for the 10-24 age cohort is road traffic injuries."

One of the reforms to the Road Traffic Act will directly address this issue. "We have proposed a graduating licensing system," discloses Lucien. "For the first year, new drivers will be allowed no alcohol use whatsoever, will not be allowed to drive at nights or on certain highways, and will not be able to have more than two other people in the vehicle with them. After proving themselves to be safe drivers in that first year, they will then be granted a full licence."

I related some of the nightmares being experienced by folks who find themselves in the hands of irresponsible driving instructors. "This will also be dealt with under the reforms," said Lucien. "Instructors will have to attend courses and be registered. We will also be modernising our training and testing methods."

Lucien says that the police have been as cooperative as they can under some very trying circumstances. "Their breathalyser equipment had become damaged over the years, so they had no accurate way to determine the sobriety of a driver. We are grateful that late last year they were finally replaced," he relates.

Further, the ticketing system for traffic offences has been in shambles. "There is currently a less than 50 per cent compliance rate," says Lucien. "The computer systems were found to be inefficient, as they were not communicating with each other. So an offender could be breaking traffic laws in various areas of Jamaica and getting away."

Earlier this month, National Security Minister Dwight Nelson announced that testing for a new automated, integrated ticketing system would begin on October 20. This will include an islandwide IT system with companion hand-held instruments so that police officers will be able to check immediately if they have stopped a repeat offender and hold the person on the spot.

Lucien has lauded Prime Minister Golding on his vigorous chairmanship of the council. "It is because of his interest why we are able to start the pilot and why we are hoping to introduce new road laws in the very near future."

He said that with speeding being the biggest headache on our roads, the prime minister fully supports the committee's recommendations for the introduction of surveillance cameras at intersections. "The PM believes that if we can catch offenders early with this method, we may save their very lives before they take their bad driving habits on to the highways."

Having collaborated with Lucien Jones on several road safety projects, I was surprised to learn that his role is totally voluntary. This doctor with a 31-year practice in Clarendon spares no effort, attending frequent meetings and working nights and weekends.

Such stewardship has made Jamaica known worldwide as trailblazers in road safety. We are ahead of several developing countries, thanks to the collaborative efforts of multiple government agencies, NGOs, civil society and tertiary institutions represented on the council.

Because of Jamaica's work, our prime minister was invited to address the United Nations on Road Safety, and was represented by Minister Mike Henry in March 2008. Lucien has also been a member of a regional body headed by Costa Rica President Oscar Arias and with membership of the IDB, World Bank and PAHO.

However, we still have a far way to go to minimise road fatalities. The NRSC, with the support of Jamaica National, recently launched an inter-parish competition, featuring star hurdler Melaine Walker challenging Jamaicans to make their parishes safer.

Lucien Jones' care for his fellow human being is reflected in his internet ministry -, and his service to the St Andrew Parish Church where he is People's Warden.

He credits his values and patriotism to his parents, the late Winston and Sylvia Jones. "My father served first as an MP in Norman Manley's PNP and later as minister and president of the Senate," he says. "The Manley-Bustamante era was a time of friendly rivalry. At that time politics was fun for me as a child. I have seen in these leaders and our historical figures the resilience of our people and I believe we can bring Jamaica back."

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