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Make seatbelts and helmets compulsory

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Last April 2004, the Medical Association staged their fourth Annual Health Fair under the theme: “Road safety is no accident.” Speaking at the Fair, Minister of Health and the Environment Dr. Douglas Slater spoke about the introduction of laws to make compulsory the wearing of helmets for motorcyclists, and seat belts for drivers.

Nothing more was heard about helmet and seat belt legislation until one year later, when 33-year-old Harley Cambridge died in a motor cycle crash on April 30 just one week after 19-year-old Jason Punnett died from injuries sustained when his Mitsubishi Pajero overturned at Gibson Corner. {{more}}

Cambridge’s crash was the second motor cycle fatality for this year. In January, 40-year-old Daniel Johnson died when according to eye witnesses he seemed to lose control of the bike he was riding.

Last Sunday night, the call every parent dreads was received by the parents of 21-year-old Rafagha “Raffie” Sardine/Huggins of Argyle. Sardine succumbed to injuries sustained when the car in which he was a passenger crashed into a pole at Arnos Vale. His death brings the number of road fatalities here for the year to six. Five of the six deaths involved people in the prime of their life. Two involved motor cyclists who were not wearing helmets.

We add our voice to the calls for Government to speed up enactment of legislation to make seatbelts and helmets mandatory. And it should go further than that. New drivers should be required to have at least six months of supervised driving after obtaining their licence.

No one knows if helmets or seatbelts would have saved the lives of any of the young people who left us recently in these horrible accidents. But what has been proven definitively is that seat belts and helmets save lives.

Failure to wear a seat belt contributes to more fatalities than any other single traffic safety-related behavior, the world over. Studies have shown that wearing a seat belt is still the single most effective thing a person can do to save lives and reduce injuries when travelling in a vehicle.

Head injuries are the main cause of death and disability to cyclists. Bike helmets prevent injury. After helmets were made compulsory in the USA, there was a fall in head injuries to cyclists of around 40%. Most cycling accidents usually don’t involve another vehicle. The rider simply loses control of the bike. This happens to even the most experienced riders.

Our legal drafters should consider adding six months of compulsory supervised driving after passing the driver’s test to the legislation they are currently working on. All drivers know that when you get a driver’s license, you are just beginning to learn to drive. New drivers especially young ones tend to overestimate their abilities behind the wheel.

Studies show that scare tactics and lectures do not work with young drivers, but supervising their practice driving over a longer learning period does. It has been shown that young drivers develop their driving habits from their peers and role models. This is where parents and other adults play a critical role.

As citizens of this country, we need not wait on legislation to do what is right and what may save our life, and that of our children. Let’s buckle up, put on the helmets, practise defensive driving, proceed at a reasonable pace and refrain from drinking and driving.

Let’s drive with the youngsters, pass on our experience, and give them invaluable supervised practice behind the wheel. We must set a good example!

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