Today’s Opinion: In the wake of a tragedy

POSTED: 05/10/11 12:34 PM

It is amazing how opinions are brewing about Friday’s fatal traffic accident that took the life of 12-year-old Silvia Lynch.

It is, of course, a tragedy – there is no other word for it. The circumstances, as they now appear to be, seem to show that the truck driver was simply in a hurry and that his brakes were working just fine. He just didn’t feel like using them.

In the wake of such a tragedy people are looking for answers. Parliamentarian Jules James threw some oil on the fire (in our opinion) by issuing a press release wherein he asks for a parliamentary inquiry. One off-hand remark in that press release states “It has happened too many times in the past where lives have also been lost….”

This suggests of course that runaway trucks are on a rampage on the island and that accidents like the one in Sucker Garden are happening all the time. But that is far from the truth. We remember a fatal truck incident from 2005 when a trailer truck belonging to St. Maarten Port services barreled down the Harold Jack Hill with faulty brakes. The truck slammed into a wall and killed two people.

After that tragedy, most accidents we remember involve daredevils on motorbikes, quads and scooters. So far, nobody has come up with an initiative for a parliamentary inquiry into all those horrible bike accidents. But then (and nobody says this aloud) some of those bikers are living so much on the edge that they have it coming.

Everything is relative and the death of the 12-year-old schoolgirl has had a huge impact people’s psyche. Understandably so.

Michael Ferrier is asking to change the law so that truck drivers who are unable to find their brakes could be put in jail for up to six years if their road rage causes serious injury or death. We understand that reaction too.

But all these calls for justice focus on the wrong thing. There are reasons why these accidents happen. And if we get down to those reasons – the root causes if you will – then we have a much better chance to prevent this from ever happening again.

What are then those reasons? First of all, though it did not play a role in this particular case, the technical condition of trucks. Somebody has to enforce strict regulations, to make sure that technically trucks are in order.

The same goes, by the way, for cars. The ninety-second vehicle inspection on Bush Road does not impress anybody: it’s just a nuisance that costs about $25 and serves no other purpose than collecting money.

When the cars are in good condition, we have to look at the drivers. Who is qualified to drive a truck in St. Maarten? Apparently, the driver in Friday’s accident did not have a local license. Should he have had one? Should we establish a system whereby no driver is allowed behind the wheel of a truck unless he has a local certificate?

We bet our bottom dollar that many truck drivers have no idea about for instance how many meters their truck rumbles on after they first hit the brake pedal. That’s different under different conditions. When it rains, trucks need almost double the distance.

We have witnessed a test in the Netherlands with truck drivers of an oil company. A trainer asked them how much distance a fuel truck needed to come to a full stop at a certain speed. On a dry tarmac, most drivers nailed it down almost to a tee. But on wet tarmac, they underestimated the distance by more than one hundred percent.

Truck drivers need to be aware of the potential dangers their massive piece of steel-on-wheels represents to pedestrians and others on the road. They have a serious responsibility, but they do not have to carry that burden alone. An adequate screening process, set up by the government, would keep those not fit to drive such monsters off the road.

Unfortunately, government action is hard to come by. When in 2007 several fatal accidents happened with quads on the road everybody was screaming blue murder. The law had to be changed, those quads had to get off the road. Everybody knows what happened: nothing.


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