Caution and less speed the way to go
In the horrific vehicle crash which happened last Sunday evening in Tobago, nearly everyone seems inclined to blame the road. Seventeen soldiers, two sailors and four civilians were injured when a military vehicle crashed on a hairpin bend in Charlotteville. The passengers mainly comprised members of Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force rugby team. Chief of Defence staff Kenrick Maharaj has said alcohol was not a factor in the accident, and commended the driver for "banking" the truck against the hillside rather than going off the precipice on the other side. Two years ago, this same spot saw three Tobagonians die after their car flipped off the cliff and dropped 30 metres on to the roadway.
But the term "dangerous bend" does not mean that the shape of a corner is inherently dangerous — it means that drivers need to exercise especial care in negotiating such turns. This is especially the case given the fact that poor infrastructure does indeed play a part in vehicular accidents. The nation's highways have too many undulating stretches, with some parts even marked by potholes. Since the highway is a high speed zone, poor workmanship facilitates death traps, especially when rainy weather creates pools of water which can cause car tyres to plane.
The country's secondary roads are even worse, with cracked portions going unrepaired for months at a time and, in some cases, years. Indeed, bad roads tied with official neglect are a major cause of protests in various parts of the country, revealing how inconvenienced citizens feel when the authorities fail to do their job in this regard. In this incident, if Turpin Bend had been properly rehabilitated, the accident might have been less serious.
At the same time, the Works Division in Tobago had installed a yellow-and-black barrier on the curve to alert drivers to the danger. After all, the core fact is that most accidents in T&T are not due to bad roads or even defective vehicles. They are caused by drivers driving too fast, often under the influence of alcohol or when they are sleepy. Even if, in this particular case, neither factor caused the accident, the driver was certainly going too fast or else the accident either would not have happened or the impact would have not been so great as to cause serious injuries to eight of the 17 passengers.
The tragedy of these kinds of incidents is that, in the vast majority of cases, injury and deaths were avoidable. A little more caution, a little less speed, are all that is required. But, with more than 120 people already killed on the nation's roads this year, it's clear that this simple message isn't getting through.