PAPUA New Guineans’ attitude towards road safety can be best described as “careless”.
Our careless attitude is manifested when we drink and drive, when we overload passenger vehicles, when we disregard seatbelts, when we overtake on double lanes and when we scurry past red-lights, just to name a few.
We accelerate past 60kph in a 60kph zone and drive frustratingly slowly on the fast lane.
But this careless or sloppy attitude is not confined to drivers and passengers.
The police and traffic enforcement agencies also do not effectively play their roles by allowing perpetrators to slip past road blocks, after receiving a small token in cash or kind.
Those who issue safety stickers must also take the blame for allowing vehicles that are not roadworthy to commute the highways and by-ways.
In recent times, there have been many fatal road accidents that have claimed innocent lives.
The most notable being the PMV accident along the Hiritano Highway in May, which according to sources, was the result of drink-driving.
According to the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), drink-driving is the major factor behind the frequent accidents along major highways as well as city streets.
Statistics over a five-year period obtained from Motor Vehicles Insurance Ltd showed an average of more than 250 truck accidents a year, semi-trailers included.
Truck accidents were behind only Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs) as the most common vehicles involved in accidents.
NRSC executive director Frank Ao Aku said the problem was a cultural one. We agree.
“The road conditions are often poor and it isn’t in many a driver’s mindset that they need to be properly prepared to negotiate road hazards,” he said.
He also believes that the laws are too lenient and we are of the same opinion.
There are not enough laws to deter people from unsafe driving practices, and where they exist, they are not enforced stringently.
Drink-driving penalties need to be enforced, with more roadside testing to nab the culprits.
It is time to curb fatalities and injuries by educating people on the obvious dangers of alcohol when mixed with driving.
MVIL is one organisation that can attest to the problems facing PNG in relation to road accidents that result from drink-driving.
Dr John Mua, of MVIL, confirmed that accidents involving drink-driving were consistently in the top two major causes of road accidents.
“It is clearly a big issue; we can’t underestimate the problem in terms of those killed and the subsequent negative impact on surviving victims. It is an issue we need to tackle,” he said.
The police department strongly agrees.
“Drink-driving is the cause of most road accidents, it is a major problem on PNG roads,” Supt Wini Heneo said.
He believed technology such as breath analysers were an essential weapon to detect inebriated drivers as the most dangerous offenders were mid-range drinkers, not the heavily inebriated.
Supt Heneo also said the police were limited without sophisticated deterrents such as breath testing units.
He also reiterated that more legislation was needed to enforce a crackdown on drivers.
Although we agree that the NRSC and the police need to be empowered and equipped to enforce the law, we believe there are simple measures to enforce the law.
For instance, one does not need a breath analysers. Simple physical tests like asking a driver suspected of being intoxicated to balance on one foot or walk in a straight line can be used.
According to police, this test is employed on a rare basis and not to a satisfactory level.
Police need to stop suspected drivers and conduct the tests at all costs because the suspect, if allowed to pass, puts his own life at risk and that of his passengers, commuters and other drivers.
The way forward is for the police traffic unit and NRSC to be more relentless in enforcing road safety and traffic laws.
It is good to note that the NRSC is embarking on a campaign to address these issues and it needs the support of concerned citizens if they are going to make a difference.
Concerned citizens should make it their business to warn others that a careless attitude will result in trouble or tragedy.
It is everyone’s business to ensure more innocent lives are not lost through road accidents.