The political inaction that has contributed to Bermuda’s high rates of road death and injury is akin to the mass shootings and lack of gun control plaguing the United States.
This is the view of orthopaedic surgeon and road safety expert Joseph Froncioni who has had “a front-row seat” on the carnage through his work patching together broken bodies.
Dr Froncioni was speaking with The Royal Gazette’s Drive for Change campaign, in the hope that the Progressive Labour Party government will enact the legislation that he and others have called on for more than two decades.
The former chairman of the Bermuda Road Safety Council said: “The situation we are in with road traffic injuries and deaths is like the American struggle with their gun issues.
“The massacres that happen every two days, the accessibility to wartime weapons, the hypocrisy of the politicians, the kneejerk reactions of offering thoughts and prayers, but taking no action is shameful. Something has gone very wrong in that system.
“That is what I would compare our road situation to. We have politicians, some who have lost children, who send thoughts and prayers, but no one in the last government or the governments before has done the right thing. We have had lots of lip service but no action.”
For years, Dr Froncioni has been advocating for three key measures that he believes will reduce the rates of death and injury in Bermuda — rates that are among the highest in the OECD and Pan-American countries.
He believes that roadside sobriety testing, speed cameras and a graduated licensing programme will combat the crisis we are in. These objectives are also being pushed by the Bermuda Police Service, emergency services, the Drive for Change campaign and its partners at A Piece of the Rock, and alcohol abuse charity Cada.
The Bermuda Road Safety Council is on board with sobriety testing and cameras and is deliberating on what kind of training programme Bermuda needs.
Three quarters of road fatalities involve alcohol or drugs. The PLP has announced that it is on the verge of introducing roadside sobriety breath testing, which Dr Froncioni said should be designed to deter people from impaired driving rather than catch them in the act.
He said: “You tell them that tonight there is a significant risk that if you drink and drive you will be caught.
“Amazingly enough, people alter their behaviour. In Canada people wouldn’t think of drinking and driving because they know that the consequences are very severe and they know the probability of getting caught is high. People don’t drink less, they just don’t drink and drive.”
Dr Froncioni said there was also a lack of will to enact legislation that is already in place.
He successfully lobbied for a law in 1997 to allow police medics to take blood samples from patients who end up in hospital suspected of impaired driving. That law was not being enforced, he said, because only one police medic was authorised to perform the task that many are qualified to do.
“None of the people in the ER can do it due to our code of ethics. However, there are 30 nurses in Bermuda who are licensed to draw blood — you can employ them to become an arm of the police. If they [the patient] refuse, they are guilty of a refusal — that is all in place it has just never been implemented.”
Through his medical practice, Dr Froncioni is familiar with the damage that high-speed crashes have on the human body.
Having studied international best practice and conducted numerous local studies, he is convinced that speed cameras are the solution. Even those who speed moderately are a danger, he said, in part owing to Bermuda’s roads infrastructure.
He said: “Speed really does matter. In Bermuda we can’t improve the engineering of our roads very much — 95 per cent of the lands that border our roads are private so we can’t have run off zones or separation barriers. The effect of a crash at speed is serious. You are likely to hit an oncoming vehicle, telephone pole, a wall.
“A 35km/h limit sounds low and it has been around for generations but not much has changed. The changes that have happened have made it even more important to have a low speed limit — there are more large vehicles, there is more traffic and we use motorbikes a lot because of the one car per family rule.”
He said there is a correlation between an increase of speed and the release of the 1992 Tumin Report which, while helping to reduce criminalisation of predominantly black men accumulating traffic offences, also resulted in a reduction in the number of police patrolling the roads.
He said: “Things were getting better and better and then, all of a sudden, removing the cops from their roads patrols, things have gotten worse ever since. You can drive for days without seeing a police car on the road. In the old days that was not the case.”
Dr Froncioni said that graduated licensing was another crucial piece of the puzzle that will need to be legislated as a priority.
Although there are solid solutions firmly in place and agreed upon by those who are closest to the problem, including the police and the medics, as well as numerous campaigns running in the name of road safety, Dr Froncioni remains unconvinced change was imminent.
He said: “I have been around for a long time in road safety — there is a lot of hot air. I will not believe it until I see it.”
By Sarah Lagan