Road safety awareness to help drivers of public vehicles

Attentive bus drivers at the road safety awareness workshop organised at the Vanuatu Convention Center yesterday.

Road traffic, road accidents, statistics on accidents, respect towards customers of all ages, child protection and more are some of the important points presented to drivers of public vehicles in a road safety awareness workshop on Tuesday.

Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Department of Health and Vanuatu Police Force (VPF)’s Traffic Unit at the Vanuatu Convention Center in Port Vila, the workshop aims to help drivers, especially bus drivers when they are on duty to help reduce the number of traffic accidents in Vanuatu.

From 9am to 12pm, around 40 bus drivers who favorably responded to the invitation learnt about what the Child Protection Law is all about; the expectations of Vanuatu community regarding the service provided by public vehicles; the data on road accidents mainly in Port Vila and Efate and measures by local authorities to improve road safety.

As road traffic safety refers to the measures used to prevent road users from being killed or seriously injured, WHO with the Prevention Unit of Health Department and VPF Traffic Unit have to refer to actual past experiences so they can learn and prevent all bad things happening in roads that are built purposely for economic reasons.

According the data collected by the Traffic Unit, 958 accidents occurred in Port Vila and Efate from 2016 to 2018 and out of this number, 30 were fatal.

The report shows that from January to August this year, there were 217 accidents in Port Vila and Efate, indicating a high increase compared to 958 cases happening in the last three years.

The data reveals that accidents happen usually when police are not on the road for annual inspections that normally takes place in the last semester of each year.

“When traffic inspection is underway to verify all vehicles with legal requirements, many buses are hidden away but if there is no traffic inspection, there are more vehicles in circulation and more drivers are driving when they are drunk. That is another cause of road accident,” a VPF traffic officer told the participants.

Another thing that could help in the prevention of road accidents is the breathalyzer, also mentioned at the workshop. But for the VPF Traffic Unit, the use of the device to measure the quantity of alcohol in a driver’s breath is not legal in Vanuatu and has to be added to the existing Road Traffic Safety Laws.

“Since 1980, when we undertake road inspection, all we do is to check vehicles for alcohol,” a traffic officer explained.

“We find it very hard to apply the Road Traffic Safety Laws in regards to drunk drivers and we have no legal provisions to really enforce that.”

A presenter from the Child Protection Unit acknowledged the important of the rights of children when they need to move from a place to another.

“When a child is abused in a bus or a taxi, it is an offence which can result in imprisonment. The percentage rate of child abuse increases every year and maybe some bus drivers were also involved. It is not a good image for our country and for our future,” the Child Protection Unit representative said.

A participant said the lack of road signs can contribute to road accidents.

“It is sad to see that no official from the Ministry of Public Utilities and Public Works with the Municipality of Port Vila is present here today to take note of the points raised,” he said.

“We need more road signs and we have to stop vandalism in this town as we see damaged road signs.

“Most of drivers involved in car accidents today are new and too young to drive public vehicles. Before I became a bus driver I tend to stop buses with old drivers to drop me at home because I felt safer.”

Road Traffic Safety is everyone’s business and most of the participants of the awareness workshop have raised their concern over the absence of government officials to take note of the points raised.

Only the president of SHEFA Provincial Government Council, Katawa Vatoko, and the Secretary General, Zakaraia Daniel, were present.

At the end of the workshop, the drivers who attended agree to pass the information to other drivers who did not respond to the invitation.

It was announced at the end of the awareness workshop that the Department of Health with WHO will run a similar awareness workshop next month in Port Vila to discuss health measures, including smoking as part of Road Traffic Safety.

Health authorities plan to hold awareness workshops of this kind twice a year, a proposal supported by the participants on Tuesday.

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