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Cedric Stephens Buckle up! Changing driving behaviour will be a hard slog

Changing a behaviour, ‘such as following through on a New Year’s resolution, “is not a simple, linear process,” writes Megan Call, director of the University of Utah’s Health’s Resiliency Center.

“Behaviour change is complicated and complex. It requires a person to disrupt a current habit while simultaneously fostering a new, possibly unfamiliar, set of actions. This process takes time – usually longer than we prefer. Something as simple as drinking an extra cup of water a day can take an average of two months to become a consistent, habitual behaviour,” she wrote.

Changing societal behaviour instead of individual behaviour, as I wrote in ‘Regaining Trust in the New Road Traffic Law’ on February 12, is even more difficult. It is a long-term task and involves many communities.

These statements are relevant given an announcement last year that the new Road Traffic Act and Regulations, the RTA, were coming into effect on February 1.

I have been struggling over the last few weeks to ignore my smartphone while driving and when it is not connected by way of Bluetooth to the audio system. The wireless connection allows me to conduct hands-free conversations and comply with the rule that bans the use of handheld devices. I have reviewed the new regulations and started to drive more cautiously to avoid fines for traffic violations and to prevent collisions.

Drivers on our roads are likely to fall into one of four groups: those who are ignorant about the new law/regulations; persons who are aware of the changes in the law but have not started the process to adjust their driving behaviours yet; persons who have begun to adjust their driving behaviours; and those who do not plan to change the way they drive.

Five out of every 10 drivers, I guess, are in the third group – those who have begun adjustments.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey, according to the Jamaica Observer, recently lamented “the failure of some drivers to heed the road code despite the carnage on the roads and the increased fines”. He spoke in the context of a taxi driver with 74 unpaid traffic tickets who ran a red light last Wednesday. The taxi driver, the report said, narrowly avoided colliding with the vehicle transporting the DCP. The driver was quoted as saying that he was in a hurry to take his girlfriend to work, and that caused him to run the red light. A likely story.

Given the demonstrably reckless and anti-social behaviour of the driver, shouldn’t his permit be suspended, his Transport Authority taxi licence withdrawn, and motor insurance cancelled in the public interest? These actions would send unmistakable signals that the authorities are serious about behavioural change. By the way, would the granting of an additional amnesty for unpaid traffic tickets have changed the behaviours of taxi drivers?

None of the three young motorcyclists and two pillion riders who were killed in the crash along the Golden Spring Road in St Andrew on February 26 were reported to be wearing protective gear specified in the RTA.

Riding a motorcycle is a risky business. Many bike riders do not understand the nature of the risks to which they are exposed. Due to lower visibility and less structural protection (it nuh done mek) when compared to other motor vehicles, the consequences of a crash are likely to be catastrophic. Motorcyclists in the United States were said to be 27 times more likely to die from their crash injuries than passengers travelling in cars for each vehicle mile travelled.

Wearing a helmet significantly increases one’s chance of surviving a motorcycle crash. The World Health Organization says that head and neck injuries are one of the leading causes of death following a motorcycle accident. Helmets do an excellent job of protecting the head and therefore reducing head injuries. Wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle can decrease the chances of dying in a collision by up to 39 per cent.

The fine for non-compliance with the regulation for the wearing of a helmet will lead to a fine on prosecution of $8,000 and the imposition of two demerit points. For details about the schedule of fines and demerits see the Jamaica Information Service website.

Smoking cessation research conducted on persons who stopped smoking cigarettes on their own found that it took several attempts to quit smoking. Further, these individuals went through six stages of change while trying to quit. Further research indicated that almost anyone engaging in a behaviour change will cycle through these stages. For those persons who are willing to experiment to avoid the new regime of traffic fines, and drive more responsibly, I recommend that they check out Meghan Call’s article ‘Why is Behavior Change so Hard?’.

The virtual messaging signs that are installed on a few major roadways ignore the theory of behavioural change. They are, therefore, unlikely to influence the way people like the badly behaved taxi driver operate their vehicles.

– Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to or

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