Beneath a massive advertisement billboard of an automobile, is a tiny white plaque on which is inscribed in blank ink that reads—accident fatalities 2016-1. Just one fatality after seven months into this year. You cringe in disbelief. Surely, it can’t be this mind-bogglingly low, even if you factor in the meagre population of this 87-km island which’s nearly 80,000. The more you try drilling the fact into your head, the less convinced you are about the number, For in Delhi alone five people die every day on the road, according to surveys. The city’s annual fatality tally would be a few hundred times higher than Antigua’s.
We take in with a pinch of suspicion. You surmise the officials assigned to update might have been too lazy to bother—in any way, who really bother about such trivialities of life, or maybe he must have even forgotten that such an irrelevant plaque as this existed after all. Or maybe the blank ink must have been erased by the rain.
In any case, you generally find such data in public space as odd. Generally, you get such information in local police stations, where the board often lies unattended for months, and where they are usually not prompt enough to keep a tab and then meticulously update the seemingly trivial data.
For accidents are too commonplace in India that we longer seem to bother about how many have died or the frequency of the accidents. And if you start counting the number of accidents and take the pain to keep updating it on a board, you might have to do on an hourly basis, or at least daily. And it would be a considerable botheration. Not for us such civil niceties But in Antigua, the statistic is purely accurate, and not an oversight. More importantly, people take in quite seriously too. The incident itself is recounted with dread.
“There was this young boy, must be 19 or so who was riding a bike at top speed. Suddenly, he lost the brakes and slammed into a post. It was quite a gory sight and though he was taken to the hospital he couldn’t be rescued,” says Bernadette, who runs a homestay.
Promptly, the motor vehicle department launched a drivers’ awareness workshop. “All of us went to these camps where the instructors told us how to drive safe and the rules we had to strictly observe in the highways. There were campaigns all around the country,” she added.
The accident last month was following Antigua’s worst year in terms of accident fatalities. Last year saw as many as 13 accidents, the first time it had touched double figures ever. Soon they took redemptive measures, advocated by Antigua and Barbuda Road Safety Group, like hiking the penalties and imposing more stringent punishments for drunk driving and riding without the helmets. They also formed a Road Safety Unit, besides setting up speed laser guns and CCTVs to detect over speeding and rash driving. The ABRSG is now pressing community sentencing for traffic offenders.
The average Antiguan, hence, steadfastly follows traffic rules. You can never see them, even if the road is empty, jumping the signal or driving down the wrong side. Also, irrespective of whether there is a zebra line or not, they patiently wait for the pedestrians to cross the road, overall making the job of traffic policemen quite cushy. Agrees Chester, a policeman who has been escorting the Indian team. “Their job is easy right. No accidents. No death. Us (the normal policeman) have to go behind everything. I’m kidding, Antigua doesn’t have much crime. We’re very civil people.” he grins.
Accidents from drunken driving is almost non-existent, a surprise considering their love for rum and local beer. “We know to hold our drink, brother,” Chester laughs.
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