The eco­nom­ics of road safety

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

FOR THE past sev­eral days, this news­pa­per has been re­port­ing on the re­sults of a sur­vey on peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of the state of Ja­maica’s pub­lic-health in­sti­tu­tions, par­tic­u­larly the is­land’s hos­pi­tals. Mostly, they be­lieve they are pretty bad. And that, the ma­jor­ity think, is pri­mar­ily be­cause of the State’s un­der­in­vest­ment in health ser­vices.

What our sur­vey doesn’t sub­stan­tially probe, how­ever, is how Ja­maicans be­lieve they con­trib­ute to the sit­u­a­tion of the health fa­cil­i­ties and what they might do to ease the bur­den on them. It is an el­e­ment of the health-care dis­cus­sion that the Hol­ness administration might con­sider en­gag­ing in, start­ing, per­haps, with the im­pact of mo­tor ve­hi­cle crashes.

That, at first blush, might seem a silly idea. But it might not be so un­ortho­dox, how­ever, when viewed in its fuller con­text. One is that on Sun­day, Ja­maica joins the world in a global re­mem­brance of road-traf­fic vic­tims, so the is­sue is top­i­cal at this time.

Fur­ther, in­juries from traf­fic crashes an­nu­ally ac­count for up to a fifth of hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions, and ac­ci­dents cause more deaths than a host of in­ter­nal ail­ments, in­clud­ing breast can­cer among women. More­over, ve­hi­cle crashes cause many pre­ventable deaths, whose num­bers have, in re­cent years, trended in the wrong di­rec­tion.

Or, viewed from the per­spec­tive of Ja­maica’s new US$1.64-bil­lion standby ar­range­ment with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and the quan­ti­ta­tive tar­gets there­un­der, the pre­ven­tion of traf­fic crashes is also a po­ten­tially se­ri­ous eco­nomic dis­cus­sion.

The high­est num­ber of road deaths in Ja­maica was a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago when 444 peo­ple were killed in crashes. There­after, a rel­a­tively ro­bust road-safety cam­paign had de­cent re­turns. Over the next 21 years, deaths from ve­hi­cle crashes de­clined by 41 per cent to 260 in 2012. But since then, they have been on the in­crease: 307 in 2013; 331 in 2014; 382 in 2015; and the Na­tional Road Safety Coun­cil (NRSC) ex­pects the fig­ure for 2016 to be sim­i­lar to last year’s. Since 2012, the num­ber of crash fa­tal­i­ties has jumped from 9.59 per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion to 14 per 100,000 and males ac­count for more than 80 per cent of the vic­tims.

ECO­NOMIC COSTS

These traf­fic deaths are not only emo­tional fam­ily is­sues. They have pro­found eco­nomic im­pacts. Re­cent data are not im­me­di­ately avail­able, but a decade ago, it was es­ti­mated that the cost for treat­ing vic­tims was up­wards of half a bil­lion Ja­maican dol­lars a year. The di­rect and in­di­rect cost, in­clud­ing af­ter-care ther­apy, and loss of pro­duc­tive time, were more than J$200 mil­lion. And with the bulk of the vic­tims in the prime of their work­ing lives, be­tween the ages of 20 and 49, their deaths have long-term eco­nomic ef­fects.

There are two sig­nif­i­cant facts here. One is that in a coun­try that is hard-pressed to find money to in­crease the four per cent of GDP it spends on health ser­vices, low­er­ing ex­pen­di­ture on a pre­ventable ail­ment is good eco­nom­ics that should be­come part of the on­go­ing nar­ra­tive of the NRSC.

Se­cond, they know who the main driv­ers of the re­cent hikes in traf­fic deaths are: mo­tor­cy­clists. In the past three years, deaths among this group have in­creased by 98 per cent to 111 in 2015. So, last year, they rep­re­sented 29 per cent of the traf­fic deaths.

The NRSC and the Gov­ern­ment have to tai­lor their in­ter­ven­tions to this re­al­ity.

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