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Putting the brake on road deaths

No doubt the police will be cracking down on drunk drivers during the Carnival season in a manner that they will hardly sustain for the rest of the year. This is because, as in all other areas of crime-fighting, the police can be assumed to lack the human and equipment resources to continue an efficient regime of interception and deterrence of the dangerous but widespread practice of driving under the influence (DUI).

Last year, 669 motorists went before the courts for DUIs. It is reasonable to assume that these persons represented only a fraction of drivers who were behind the wheel with blood alcohol levels which made them a danger to themselves and others. Indeed, the number of persons killed by motorists last year jumped by 12 per cent as compared to 2011, as did the number of drivers killed. However, this jump was in part due to the curfew during the three-month State of Emergency, which reduced the number of drunk and sleepy drivers out on the roads during the night.

But, while the authorities and ordinary citizens continue to rightly bewail the high number of road traffic fatalities, the figures show that such deaths have actually dropped by 29 per cent over the past five years. The ongoing efforts to bring the still too-high number of road accidents down should not blind us to the fact that the initiatives of Arrive Alive and the breathalyser seem to be bearing fruit.

This Carnival season is already too far advanced to devise and implement a comprehensive programme against drunk driving. Still, police spokespersons can use their weekly media bully pulpits to appeal to liquor suppliers and fete and show organisers to promote the use of designated drivers, together with park-and-ride shuttle services – all to the end of keeping the roads safer for Carnival, and keeping those who drink beyond the legal limit away from behind the wheel. The fact that road fatalities do not rise significantly during the Carnival months, even though it is a near-certainty that more people drive drunk during that period, implies that police vigilance has prevented a number of accidents that would otherwise have been inevitable.

If this is so – and a more refined analysis of the data is required – then bringing down the number of road fatalities even further is entirely possible. If the breathalyser may have reduced the number of drunk drivers, the introduction of radar guns (in tandem with a rationalisation of the country's archaic speed limits, such as the absurd 80 km per hour on the highways) would be an important step.

Such measures would not incur any great expense or time. And, within a few years, hundreds of lives could be saved.

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