Risky business in Westmoreland

GRANGE HILL, Westmoreland — Even with millions pumped into training programmes, plus the distribution of free safety gear and numerous appeals for them to be careful on the road, Westmoreland bike taxi operators continue to die in road crashes and one of their own believes it is their fault.

According to Elvis “Rasta” Scott, he has been in the bike taxi business since the 1980s and it all comes down to personal responsibility.

“Me never crash yet [and] me wear the helmet,” said Scott.

Studies have shown that wearing a helmet while driving a motorbike reduces the risk of sustaining a head injury by 30 per cent, on average, and the risk of being killed by up to 40 per cent.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer recently, Scott, who plies the Grange Hill route, was critical of his peers who drive recklessly on the roads. While he expressed concern that some bikers may be unable to read, he suggested that many would benefit from access to a training manual.

However, there has been no shortage of opportunities for Westmoreland’s bikers to learn how to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

In 2020 the Government spent $52 million to establish a motorcycle training facility at the Petersfield HEART/NSTA Trust academy and satellite centres at the Culloden HEART Academy and the Grange Hill High School.

In addition, a motorcycle training simulator was handed over to Grange Hill High School to enhance competence and certification for bikers. In August of that same year, the transport ministry handed over a motorcycle simulation centre to the Petersfield Vocational Training Centre in the parish. Following that, the Culloden HEART Academy satellite facility in Whitehouse was commissioned into service.

Three years on, the parish’s bikers continue to perish on its roads. On Heroes’ Day four motorcyclists crashed and died in Waterworks. According to reports from the police, the men failed to keep left and collided with a truck heading in the opposite direction.

Up to November 2 of this year, 32 of the 50 people who died in crashes on Westmoreland’s roads were motorcyclists. For the comparative period last year, motorcyclists accounted for 21 of the 42 deaths. In both years the bulk of those who died were between 20 and 29 years old.

However, it appears some progress is being made, even if it does not appear significant.

A bike taxi operator, who identified himself as Junior, said he benefited from the biker training offered at Grange Hill High School in 2020.

“I went through the training and pass with full colours and I got a certificate. The training was good, it was helpful,” he told the Observer.

Junior pointed to the importance of staying focused when driving and how easy it is for “idle” actions to cause a crash.

“You have to just be careful… I’ve crashed before, but that was before the training. The training help a lot to improve riding skills and safety,” he said.

There was just one problem.

“I got two helmets, but they are not comfortable, they are tight,” Junior said.

Asked for his views on the reason for the carnage on the roads, he said he thinks speeding is the number one cause of accidents that claim his peers’ lives.

“It’s not all the time the bike man in the wrong. Most times they get the wrong because dead man tells no tales. But they can cut down on their speed, more time them a go too hard. Sometimes a idleness as well,” he said.

Scott, who agreed, offered advice to his peers, “Learn to use the road properly”.

“Them a ride hard and they don’t know to use the road and that is a problem,” he stressed.

Biker Larrone McKenzie also urged his colleagues to slow down on the roads and he is also a strong advocate of wearing protective gear. He has provided taxi services for a decade and can testify how many times that gear has saved his skin — literally.

McKenzie said he has been in accidents before, but minor ones that did not require hospitalisation.

“The bike thing overall is risky, so even if you do have on your protective gear the least little thing happens and you hit up or something hits you, you still gonna end up [with broken bones]. It’s not like it’s a motor vehicle,” reasoned the man who says he always wears a helmet.

“I did the training at the Grange Hill High school. It was alright. It was a simulator and I learnt how to balance safety things, like wearing a helmet at all times and wearing safety shoes as slippers cannot use to operate a bike,” he added.

While he believes cyclists’ actions cause a fair share of traffic mishaps, Mitchell pointed to the state of the roads as another reason for the high number of fatalities in the parish.

“Poor road conditions cause most of the crashes. Regular bike men going about their business and other vehicles are trying to avoid potholes and crash into us,” said McKenzie.

He is appealing to the authorities to intervene.

“They need to sort out the road to minimise the number of fatalities,” the biker stressed.