Children at the forefront of Road Safety Unit campaign – Jamaica Information Service

The Road Safety Education in Schools program aims to promote and encourage the safe use of Jamaican roads by the country’s children.

Undertaken by the Road Safety Unit of the Ministry of Transport and Mines, the program targets young people at primary and secondary levels.

In 2021, some 24 children lost their lives in road accidents and one of the targets for 2022 is to reduce the number of children killed for the year.

So far this year, 17 children have died, seven of whom were pedestrians and five passengers in private motor vehicles.

“We have to target our children because they are also road users. We have them as pedestrians, pedal cyclists, passengers in public passenger vehicles and private motor vehicles. So we need to educate them on the proper use of the road,” Dontae Matthews, Education and Information Manager, Road Safety Unit, told JIS News.

Education and Information Officer, Road Safety Unit, Department of Transport and Mines, Dontae Matthews.

He informs that the promotion of road safety in schools is an important undertaking for the Unit.

“We teach them what’s called the sidewalk drill, or the hand in the air drill, which teaches them how to cross the road, using their hands. So they approach the crosswalk, look right, then left, then right again, raise their hands, and that helps them get noticed by motorists or lift them up, because they are little children” , he adds.

Mr. Matthews explains that several approaches are used to deliver the important message to target audiences.

“We need to take a different approach when it comes to teenagers. If you talk to 10th or 11th graders, they are the ones who are going to learn to drive. So we need to show them some charts and show them some of the injuries people can get when they’re not wearing protective devices and when they’re not wearing a seatbelt,” says the education officer.

“We also take what we call a drunken buster [goggles], where we show 16 and 17 year olds what it’s like to be drunk. They walk on the mat, and then when they take it off, you hear them say ‘oh Lord, I’m not going [drive and] drink because it doesn’t do any good. So it’s something to deter them from drinking and driving,” Matthews points out.

The Road Safety Unit usually schedules at least 30 school visits per term, based on analysis.

However, in addition to this number, the Unit receives calls to visit other schools to participate in various events, which usually increases the number.

The Unit is also working with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) through the Safe Passage (Safe Routes to School) Road Safety Clubs initiative, which was launched in March.

It is a component of the Integrated Community Development Project II (ICDP II) ‘Safe Passages’ project, which aims to provide a safe environment for students when crossing specific roads and traffic lanes near some school campuses.

Participating schools are Treadlight Primary in Clarendon; Hope Valley Experimental, August Town Primary and Greenwich All-Age in Kingston and St. Andrew; and Bickersteth Primary and Infant, Roehampton Primary and Salt Spring Primary in St. James.

“We are part of this program where we give them information and give them support in terms of developing these clubs in the schools, making sure the clubs are maintained, [by] providing them with road safety literature and whatever support they can, to make sure these clubs are up and running,” says Matthews.

Dontae Matthews, Education and Information Officer, Road Safety Unit, Department of Transport and Mines, speaks to students at Oracabessa Primary School in St. Mary’s.

Meanwhile, the education manager encourages parents to make sure their children understand how to use the roads properly.

“Teach them to raise their hands and not run across the road. Lots of students like to play “last lick” and run across the road…they play; but that playing can also lead to a collision. So you want to make sure parents understand how to teach their kids to cross the road,” he says.

Mr Matthews also encourages parents to teach their children to walk in single file and make sure they face oncoming traffic.

This allows them to see if a vehicle is getting out of control and take the necessary action.

When it comes to designated drivers, parents should make sure they know the driver and understand how they behave on the road.

“We have a lot of reckless drivers…they pack kids into the back of vehicles. So, when the back seat is full, you find that they go in the trunk of the vehicles. On a bicycle, in western Jamaica, there are… four people on a bicycle when there should be two, the rider and the passenger; so it’s a big problem,” says Matthews.

It specifies that people on bikes are supposed to wear approved helmets, which must have a hard outer shell, protective padding and a retention system (chin bar).

Other highly recommended protective gear includes vest, gloves, knee pads, long pants and boots.

As for public passenger vehicles, students are encouraged to take units that have a red plate, with the driver identification card displayed and the Transport Authority sticker visible.

“If the car is full, they must not enter this vehicle. If it’s a regular five-seater, the rear three should be belted. Children under 12 should be seated in the back with seat belts or in child seats or booster seats, if possible,” says Matthews.

This security measure, he advises, is “not only [for] public passenger vehicles (VPP), but also drivers of private motor vehicles.

“So parents, if you’re carrying a child on your back, make sure they’re handled properly,” Mr Matthews insists.

In the meantime, motorists are encouraged to reduce their speed, especially if they are driving in school zones, and to stop at pedestrian crossings.

“Also be a good example and don’t run the red light, because kids know what the colors of the light mean,” he adds.

So far the Road Safety Unit has visited schools in Trelawny including Bounty Hall Primary, Duncans All-Age, Refuge Primary, Hampden Primary, Brampton Primary and First Hill All-Age.

In October the Unit will target schools in Clarendon, then in November it will move on to Manchester and in December to St. Catherine.

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