Despite being up-to-date with some of the most progressive road safety regulations, such as the ban on mobile phones, Puerto Rico features poorly in terms of road safety. While statistics from the North American Law Enforcement Liaison show the effective rate of 8.4 deaths per 100,000 people – better than the US average of over 10 – this still can be much improved. For example, the United Kingdom has a rate of only 2.9, despite similarly high automobile usage.
Even if the rate were significantly better, it makes sense to continually improve road safety. Improving public safety helps to improve public health. Taking steps to improve the roads is simple, but requires thought and effort from everyone in society.
Improving current processes
Road safety awareness is something high on the agenda of Puerto Rico’s leaders. In 2011, then Governor Luis Fortuno proclaimed 2011-2020 the road safety decade. What actions have people taken to date to improve the roads? Three years into the program, a study by University of Puerto Rico found that government incentives and a safety-positive approach by the private sector, including offering subsidies on insurance and purchases for safety conscious motorists were effective. Married to public health campaigns that emphasized the need to drive carefully and without inebriation, the study found good progress had been made.
Taking these processes to the next level requires that further push from the federal and state authorities. An example of where this has been done well is Denmark. There, enforced speed limits and a push for reduction in private vehicles has improved road fatality levels to some of the best in the world. What this shows is that, once a culture of safe driving is established, the next step is to really drill down into the root causes of road accidents.
Technology improving safety
In its early years, the technology that everyone uses today – smartphones, navigation systems, and so on – were a liability behind the wheel. Distracted driving went on to become the cause of 15% of all driving deaths according to the NHTSA. This led Puerto Rico to ban all handheld devices while driving, in line with 14 states and 3 other overseas territories.
Today, technology can enable drivers to be safer. Many new vehicles started the trend through inbuilt safety features like proximity sensors, automatic emergency brakes and blind spot detection. Joining them are ever evolving gadgets. Some navigation systems now deploy a hologram system, which means you can drive without ever taking your eyes off the road to glance at a screen.
As workers work longer and longer hours, something dedicated Puerto Rican workers will be familiar with in the fallout of Maria, the risk of road accident due to tiredness increases. Manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have implemented controls to preempt driver tiredness. This ranges from intuitive engine controls from Mercedes that detect minute changes in ability; to high quality cameras in the Lexus dashboard that tracks the driver’s face for discrete tiredness-foreshadowing features.
Road safety is an important area of public health safety. In Puerto Rico, improvements are being made, but more can always be done. A continuing commitment to public education alongside the use of technology is the way forward.