As we approach the final days of 2017, and reflect on the year gone by, it’s difficult to move forward without looking back on that BIG Elephant in the room that we have yet to address.

As of this day, December 26th, also known as Boxing Day in Bermuda, there’s one Elephant that needs to be BOXED FOR GOOD! 

Fifteen lives were lost on Bermuda’s roads this year – 15! 

We’ve already heard that it’s not a question of whether or not another life will be lost. In the words of the head of the Roads Policing Unit, the only question is when.

Think about that for a minute, then consider the fact that annual figures go as high as 24, like it was in 1970, followed by another 26 lives lost in 1975 – the year that still holds the record!

The good news is since that fateful year, annual figures have declined steadily. But the fatalities remain consistent spanning decades, and they continue.

The highest number of road traffic deaths annually, since 1975, remains at 17, recorded in 1983, in 1998, and again in 2008. Sixteen residents lost their lives on our roads in 2014. To date, as of December 26, 2017, 15 road traffic fatalities have been recorded this year, which ends this weekend.

Let that sink in because the year is not over YET!

The sobering statistics released by the Bermuda Police Service in 2015, stated that there were 586 deaths on Bermuda’s roads up to that point in time since 1962.

Take a closer look and you will find that the hard facts on the issue of road safety in Bermuda point up a dismal picture in real time. Of all the accidents, road traffic fatalities included, logged between 2009 to 2015, there’s one common denominator that stands out above them all – ALCOHOL and DRUGS were a factor in 75 percent of the road traffic deaths recorded.

Other factors in the 12,808 road traffic accidents recorded in that period include:

  • 75 Road Traffic Fatalities were recorded between 2009 and 2015
  • 1 in 5 people went to the ER for Road Crashes
  • $43 Million in Hospital Costs (In-Patient Care
  • Overseas Specialized hospital care, out-patient care, rehab cost & socio-economic costs are also in the millions
  • For every fatality, there were 200 road traffic injuries
  • 16-year-old riders are most at risk of being in a road traffic crash
  • 21-25-year-old riders are at the highest risk of becoming a road fatality
  • Males are seven times more likely to die in a road crash than females
  • Black males have a 60% higher risk than other males of death in a road crash

All that was borne out in the documentary A Piece of the Rock, filmed over a period of nine months, with footage from ambulances and trauma rooms at the hospital’s Emergency Department.

Public screenings with panel discussions were held during the month of April and May this year, in a Road Safety campaign designed to create and heighten public awareness on the core issues related to Road Safety in Bermuda. More than 1,000 people saw the film and participated in the panel discussions.

Those discussions included calls for roadside sobriety testing, speed cameras and possibly beefing up fines for traffic offenders. Here we are at the end of another year, and sadly, while some progress have been made – collectively we’re still just talking.

A Piece of the Rock explores the cultural causes that underlie Bermuda’s road crash rates and points to the simple solutions that can make a big difference. Clearly, that’s easier said than done!

The cultural causes run deep in this small community, a community entrenched in the mindset that not only celebrates drinking, but drinking, drugging and driving like it’s the norm. And frankly, in more cases than not – it is the norm!

And what do we do generally? We go to the funeral, weep and wail, then go to the wake to do what – DRINK MORE!  And heaven forbid if there’s a Kool Aid Wake with no Rum! They will curse the dead just buried for ruining their fun! Trust and believe, I’ve seen it with my own eyes – more than ONCE! 

From where I sit, it has all the makings of INSANITY – Repeating the same behaviour expecting different results! It’s tearing a gaping hole in the social fabric of this community, it’s taking more than its share of our BLACK sons. And the toll is not just mounting up on our roads, it’s racking up more and more souls hellbent on killing their own.

When I heard that statistic repeated by Shari-Lynn Pringle last week, while speaking during a live television interview on Fresh TV – that 75 percent of all road traffic fatalities recorded between 2009 and 2015 involved the use of alcohol or drugs, I was painfully reminded of another interview I did ten years ago.

The interviewee was a young man, who at the time, was serving life in prison for murder. There’s no point in calling names, he’s served his time and thankfully, his life has changed.

But there’s one thing he said that stayed with me all these years. When asked to reflect back on the day he took another man’s life, I asked him to recount his steps leading up to the brutal incident. Do you know what his response was? I swear I will never forget it! He said he was hanging with his father and his dad’s crew, slamming shots of vodka all day in the heat of the summer.

He talked about the influence of his father on some of the decisions that led him to Westgate’s Maximum Security Section. He talked about how alcohol influenced his decisions on that fateful day. He talked about the INFLUENCE his dad’s life choices had on him and the decisions that led him straight to prison.

I don’t know his dad, but I can’t help wonder what he thinks of his role and his influence on his own child’s life, an influence that didn’t lead his son to making the right choices in life. I wonder if he even accepts responsibility for his actions. I don’t know but I damn sure wonder.

And then the other day, I overheard a conversation about a road fatality victim who sadly lost his life and left his young children without him. The conversation, once again, focused on that daddy influence. They talked about how his father rode like a maniac, and how at times, he did that towing his own son on the back of his bike. Like father like son, they said. Here’s the thing though – unlike father – his son is dead! And his grandchildren are now fatherless! Ultimately who pays? 

Now before you get it twisted – DON’T! I’m not pointing fingers, all I’m asking is how much will it take for this madness to HIT HOME! Or do we even care as long as that home is not our own?

What’s it going to take to address it and FIX IT? Surely, it will be more than catchy slogans, like don’t drink and drive! Hell! I would be impressed if we would just get honest and  call it for what it is – REPEATED LEARNED BEHAVIOUR THAT’S Socially and Culturally accepted for what it is – INSANITY! Get it or maybe not!

Changing the mindset requires changing the way we set the mindset! That takes action – action that starts within! All the legislation in the world won’t change it! Like the road safety stakeholders said: “You cannot legislate your way out of this!” And parking tickets won’t cut it either!

I don’t know what it will take to reverse it, but I do know this – all the talk, all the documentaries, all the promises, all the chatter won’t change a damn thing! Actions speak louder than words! 

A good place to start would be to just get the roadside sobriety checks up and running. Get the speed cameras up and running, Get on with it without running your mouths! Just get it done! 

Then once that’s done, take a real close look at your campaigns over the years and admit that they have FAILED Miserably! Take a real good long and hard look at the reality of it all and know that moving forward requires that the very first step is to be honest.

Changing minds requires a change in your thinking! Learned behaviour is harder to unlearn than it is to learn it. If over the years we have learned that riding and driving like maniacs is acceptable, then we become less bothered by the acceptance of it, until someone we care about gets hit by it!

Anything less than that is a mere blip on the radar screen – until the next blip – then it’s back to business as usual with another white sheet saying rest in peace and another funeral in between!

Just for today, for this the last few days of 2017, my hope and prayer will be that the number of road traffic fatalities this year stops at 15. But then again, we shall SEE!

Ceola Wilson – Keeping it Real on Bermuda Real