Costly curfew crashes

At least 29 people have died this year in motor vehicle crashes that occurred after the start of the nightly all-island curfews, new statistics have revealed.

The death toll resulted from 25 fatal crashes that involved a total of 39 vehicles, some of them public passenger vehicles (PPVs), an analysis of police crash data by the Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI) has revealed.

PPVs were involved in six of the 25 fatal collisions while seven involved motorcyclists and another seven featuring pedestrians, according to the MGI analysis.

All the crashes occurred between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. and the victims range in age from a four-year-old boy to a 75-year-old man.

With motor vehicle crashes costing taxpayers approximately $3.2 billion annually, there are fears that drivers flouting the curfews are putting additional pressure on the country’s already-stretched public healthcare system.

“The direct cost [to hospitals] is $1.4 billion,” MGI Executive Director Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr told The Gleaner.

“Of the direct costs, 24 per cent is for doctor time; dressings and disposables, 19 per cent; hospital stays, 13 per cent; X-rays, six per cent,” he said, adding that outpatient care and drugs also account for a large chunk of the spending.

The nightly curfews have been in place for a year now, with the hours routinely adjusted for public holidays. It is among a range of measures imposed by the Holness administration as part of the efforts to control rising COVID-19 numbers. Up to last Friday, there were 21,544 confirmed active cases in the island, which is more than half the 40,499 cases recorded islandwide since March 2020.

Some 613 deaths have been recorded, with another 92 under investigation.

Between January and March last year, with no nightly curfew in place, 52 persons died in 46 fatal crashes that occurred after 8 p.m.

With the introduction of the curfews, road safety advocates and other interest groups were hopeful that there would be a significant reduction in the carnage on the roadways.

However, the MGI analysis revealed that between September and December last year, 40 persons perished in 38 fatal crashes that occurred after 8 p.m., including 20 deaths after 10 p.m.

The curfew hours largely commenced between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. over the four-month period.

“Lockdown should mean bringing it down from 52 to zero, but the lockdown hasn’t even brought it under half,” said Lyew-Ayee, making reference to the number of road deaths recorded over the first three months of last year and the current one.

Up to last Friday, Jamaica recorded a total of 95 road deaths since January 1 this year, a slight decrease when compared with the corresponding period last year.

“Normally, we would expect the downturn to be even more dramatic,” said Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council.

“But it appears that road users are flouting both the curfew orders and the Road Traffic Act and are crashing and dying when, on the face of it, they have no business being on the road at that time,” he said of the fatal crashes after dark.

Jones, a medical doctor, believes this is indicative of the general indiscipline in the society, “which the attempts to manage the pandemic has unearthed”.

According to the MGI analysis, five of the 25 fatal crashes that occurred after 8 p.m. this year were in the St Catherine South Police Division, followed by St James with four.

No road deaths were recorded in St Ann, St Mary, Portland and St Thomas during the curfew hours, the data show.

“That’s interesting because St Ann is usually pretty bad,” said Lyew-Ayee.

He said that it was troubling that there was no single entity in Jamaica – public or private – that is capturing and collating data from non-fatal motor vehicle crashes.

“The authorities, insurance companies, … nobody. There is no single repository for this information,” said the MGI executive director.

“We don’t have a true and full picture of the road safety situation in Jamaica,” he said, while insisting that the data is available through the police, insurance companies and hospitals.

Seeking to underscore the importance of the data, Lyew-Ayee cited two studies, one of which was conducted between 2000 and 2010 and showed that only three per cent of motor vehicles crashes in Jamaica result in death.

The current fatality rate, he said, is not going to be more than 3.5 per cent.

The other study, conducted in 2017 using accident and emergency data, revealed that motor vehicle crashes cost $3.2 billion each year.

It showed, too, that 34 per cent of all hospital admissions resulting from motor vehicle collisions were for head and facial injuries while 14 per cent were for arm and leg injuries.

The average cost per case for a crash victim was $113,000, a figure that climbed to $166,000 in cases where the victim was a pedestrian and $263,000 for a motorcyclist, but dropped to $94,000 for a motor vehicle passenger, the study found.

“Right now, decisions and policies are being made on fatal crash data, not on the wider picture. Three per cent is a very small part of a picture. I am not going to make policy based on three per cent,” he said, citing the findings of the first study.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com