2004, the World Health Organisation made road safety the theme
of World Health Day to draw attention to the emergence of
road traffic injuries as an international health issue with
grave consequences and enormous economic and social costs
to a country. Worldwide, road traffic accidents are ranked
11th as the leading cause of death and as second in the 5-14
and 15-29 age groups; third in the 30-44 age group; eighth
in the 45-59 age group (WHO 2002).
The WHO has predicted that road accidents could be the third
ranked cause of disease and injury by 2020, unless road safety
measures feature in the forefront of public health efforts.
In T&T we have experienced an alarming growth in road
accident deaths and injuries over the past few years. Between
1999 and 2003, accidents involving slight and serious injuries
increased by a staggering 280 per cent from 1,539 in 1999
to 4,330 in 2003, while deaths increased by 12 per cent from
177 to 197 (based on CSO data). In the economically productive
15-44 age group, road accidents are ranked as the second major
cause of death, overshadowed only by HIV/Aids.
While cross-country comparisons are tricky, the available
data suggests that high rates of road accidents and deaths
are a particular feature of middle income countries such as
T&T and many of our Latin neighbours.
Unlike deaths from chronic diseases which tend to show a strong
negative correlation with economic development, road accident
deaths show a positive correlationie while the economy
grows so do road deaths. The reason is obviousmore prosperity
leads to more cars on the roads.
However, there comes a tipping point where the opposite relationship
comes into play. Beyond a certain per capita GDP road deaths
decrease as a cause of death. This is because in most developed
countries there are aggressive road safety campaigns, well
designed road networks, effective public transport systems
and effective policing of traffic laws.
While our road death rate of 15.2 (deaths per 100,000 population)
is one of the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean compared
with rates of 41.7 in El Salvador, 41.0 in the Dominican Republic
and 25.6 in Brazil, it is approximately double the rate in
many developed nations such as the UK (6.0), Norway (6.0),
Japan (6.9), Denmark (8.0), Germany (8.0) and Canada (8.5)
to name a few. If we wish to become a developed nation by
2020 improving road safety is a key policy issue that must
The Government has to play the leading role in improving road
safety and must treat road accidents and road death as a public
health concern, ranked alongside HIV/Aids and other communicable
diseases. The police authorities have a central role to play
in reducing road accidents. In Costa Rica where road fatality
was the third leading cause of death, police enforcement of
seat belt and vehicle maintenance laws, integrated with prevention
campaigns, proved effective in reducing the number of road
deaths by ten per cent between 2003 and 2004.
In T&T there is clearly a need to implement new laws and
regulations to ensure greater adherence to driving laws, including:
the use of cameras; the introduction of a points system; legislation
governing pedestrian crossing; legislation regarding maxi-taxi
stops and most importantly drinking and driving legislation
including testing of urine samples and the much-awaited breathalyser
tests for suspected drunk drivers. There are also interventions
that need to be made to improve the physical infrastructure,
including construction of overhead pedestrian crossings and
sidewalks and street lighting. It is important to note that
pedestrians account for the many of the road fatalities in
T&T (approximately 42 per cent).
Despite the central responsibility of government, it is also
important to note that road safety is an important business
issue in T&T. With the passage of the Occupational Health
and Safety Act (OHSA) government, labour and business interests
have focused attention on health and safety on the jobsite.
However, while they receive headline news, workplace fatalities
are insignificant compared to road deaths, with a national
total of three jobsite fatalities in 2003.
Even in high risk environments, workers are safer at work
than on the way to and from the jobsite.
Also of importance is the economic burden of traffic accidents.
The WHO estimates the cost of traffic accidents to be approximately
one per cent of GDP for Latin American and Caribbean countries.
An analysis of road traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries
in T&T (St Bernard & Matthews) provided conservative
estimates of US$ 6 million per year in health costs and US$
14 million year as the burden placed on the private sector.
The message is clear: companies need to be concerned about
the safety of their employees outside of the factory gate
and, in particular, their safety on the roads.
The STCIC believes that encouraging safe driving amongst employees
and contractors and ensuring that employees and contractors
drive in safe vehicles is a key issue of corporate social
responsibility in T&T.
Companies need to make sure that they have clear policies
in place on how their vehicles are used, both during work
hours and after hours. The policies should include a policy
on cellphone use, mandatory wearing of seatbelts and, probably
most importantly of all, driving under the influence. They
also have to ensure that their vehicles are well maintained
and in a safe physical condition (eg ensuring that trucks
are not overloaded).
Companies have a clear social responsibility to ensure that
they do not cause harm to the publicthis includes how
they use public highways in conducting their business. They
also have a responsibility to generally encourage responsible
habits and behaviour amongst their employees, contractors
and other stakeholders.
The STCIC fully endorses and supports the Arrive Alive
campaign, entirely funded by the private sector, which was
very effective in reducing road deaths (by an estimated 30
per cent) over the Carnival season when compared to the same
period in 2004.
We urge the private sector to commit to this effort as well
as it will only redound to the benefit of the entire society.