Editorial | Make driver education a priority
Driver education in schools seems like an excellent way to tackle the ongoing carnage on the nation’s roads. If there is national concern about public safety, as there ought to be, then safe and smart driving is desperately needed in Jamaica at this time.
The statistics reveal that young adults make up the majority of road casualties. The number of road fatalities in the general population is alarming with 488 lives wasted in 2022 and another 487 in 2021.
We, therefore, find it laudable that York Castle High School in St Ann has pioneered driver education in schools and we celebrate with them the success of 36 students who recently obtained their provisional driver’s licences.
The school developed the curriculum with the assistance of the HEART/NSTA Trust and had the blessings of the Island Traffic Authority and the Ministry of Education. Driver education courses might vary, but we expect that a comprehensive training module would include basic skills, safe-driving techniques, road code and etiquette, and basic maintenance instructions.
York Castle has had an active driver education programme since 2013 beginning with forms 1 to 3, and it was later expanded to the upper classes. Initial funding came from the Ministry of Education through the Career Advancement Programme. When the funds dried up the school administration pivoted and formed a Driver’s Club, which is accessible to interested students.
Determined to make this initiative which has the essential goal of producing safe, conscientious drivers work, the teachers volunteered their cars for the programme and paid instructors were brought in to conduct the training.
Driver education is important because it helps to set a solid foundation that is expected to last a lifetime. Students are of course the first beneficiaries because they will leave school equipped with a valuable skill and they will be able to use this certification to their advantage. But beyond personal gain, there is a countrywide gain, for if there are fewer accidents then the pressure on the public health system would be lessened considerably.
Drivers demonstrate their ignorance about the road code and regulations daily. In Jamaica, we drive on the left except when overtaking, yet it is not unusual to see motorists overtaking on the right or creating a lane where none ought to be. Some motorists appear mystified when they get to a round-about as they fail to recognise who has the right of way. Then there are those who fail to yield to emergency vehicles even with their blaring sirens and flashing lights. These motorists might be reckless, but it could also be that they are ignorant because they are not familiar with the rules of the road.
Since 2021 the Island Traffic Authority has been seeking to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to introduce a driver education programme in high schools and some schools were earmarked for driving simulators. This programme, we feel, should be accelerated.
Road safety advocates have also been calling for driver education programmes which can deliver measurable results to be introduced in high schools. We also recognise that there is a strong national incentive for driver education programmes to be integrated into the school curriculum of high schools, exposing students to classroom instructions and practical driving lessons.
Every Jamaican has a stake in seeing fewer casualties on our roads. For that reason we must do everything to ensure that young people develop safe driving habits before they take to the streets.