There is perhaps no more stark a reminder of our need for healing in Guyana than the situation on our roads. Reduced care and concern for one another is evident everywhere, and is most obvious when accidents and deaths occur.
In 2016, 128 persons died in road accidents. The traffic department reported that over 26,000 cases (yes, 26,000 – almost one case for every 30 Guyanese) were “made out against errant drivers” for speeding.
There were 3,317 cases of driving under the influence of alcohol and 4,111 cases of overloaded minibuses, to name just a few breaches.
Many might be tempted to ask “what are the authorities doing about this situation?” It is indeed a necessary question. We taxpayers pay all the costs to run the Presidency, Parliament, Ministries, the traffic department and, indeed, the entire operations of the State. We have a right to expect services from public servants after all.
It is also true that if we had a more predictable and stern response to breaches from the authorities, including the suspending of licences and the increasing of insurance premiums, drivers would be significantly encouraged to improve their driving.
However, before we do the easy thing and curse at the government and the politicians, consider some other questions: who put that drink in the drunk driver’s mouth? Who was mashing the accelerator? Did any member of the government or politician encourage you to jump the traffic lights?
Heal Guyana has a simple, honest and profound slogan: “Starting with ourselves.” This slogan is consistent with the teachings of all Guyana’s religions in decrying hypocrisy and our all-too-human tendency to demand from others what we do not demand of ourselves.
Before we look to blame the authorities, therefore, we the road users need to take responsibility for our own conduct. Very few problems on the roadways speak to our complicity more than the issue of police corruption, which is a very popular complaint. How can a bribe be accepted if a bribe is not offered?
The good news is that many citizens are demonstrating a willingness to do the right thing. The average driver stops at red lights, joins a line, and does not “undertake.” The tooted exuberance as the light turns green is not really a display of rudeness – it’s a celebration, befitting our happy culture.
But on a serious note, the next time you are on the road check how many drivers are being courteous to one another: allowing minor road traffic to enter major roads, putting on their hazard lights and stopping for pedestrians to cross. Even minibuses will have the conductor walking children across the road.
I will never forget the time I left my car in one lane at a traffic light to help a very slow-moving old lady cross the road. She moved so slowly that the lights went from red to green to red and then to green again, before she could finally make it to the other side. I was sweating, fearing the hostility I would endure from other drivers due to the long line of blocked traffic I had caused.
But no: not a horn blew, not a single curse was uttered.
Our glass is still half full. Despite the challenges, Guyana is still a beautiful place and Guyanese are still a beautiful People.
Let’s take those small steps toward caring for one another on the roadways and across the country, starting with ourselves.
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.