Many Dominicans love the game of baseball and several players come to the U.S. every year to play professionally. So, when an auto-related death of a very talented, upcoming baseball player occurred, the DR's highways received some attention. The roads in the DR are quite unsafe and become the cause of hundreds of fatalities each year. Since the unemployment rate there is 14%, several Dominicans are searching for ways to make money. One of which involves owning a cheap motorcycle and creating a taxi service out of it. Even though the entrepreneurship is helping create an income, fatalities still occur due to lax helmet and drinking-while-driving laws. -AL
Gone too soonOct 27th 2014, 22:51 by J.B. | SANTO DOMINGO
THE St Louis Cardinals’ 2014 season ended in defeat on October 16th, when the San Francisco Giants advanced to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) World Series by beating them four games to one. But hopes were bright in St Louis that the club would contend for another title next year—in large part because of Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old outfielder widely regarded as one of the best up-and-coming hitters in the sport. That optimism has abruptly turned to grief. On October 26th Mr Taveras and his girlfriend died in a car accident, when he drove his Chevrolet Camaro into a tree while speeding amidst heavy rains on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic (DR).
The sudden loss of such a talented young player cast a pall over the fifth game of the World Series, which was under way when the news broke. With sufficient reflection, though, the shock players and fans felt upon hearing the grim tidings may be partially replaced by surprise that it took this long for a baseball player to be claimed by such a tragedy. According to a 2013 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the DR has the second-most-dangerous roads in the world, with 41.7 people perishing in traffic accidents each year for every 100,000 residents. Only the tiny Pacific island of Niue, which saw one driving-related death among its population of 1,465, posted a higher rate. Meanwhile, there are now 151 Dominicans playing in MLB, representing one eighth of the entire league. Assuming that this group spends half its time in the DR, that means that every year there is a 3% chance that at least one Dominican MLB player will be killed in a crash.
If any good is to come out of the accident, it would be that the loss of a professional athlete might at last focus the nation’s attention on the scourge of vehicular fatalities. But drawing the right conclusions about why Dominican roads are so perilous will be critical. Shortly after Mr Taveras died, Pedro Martínez, a retired superstar pitcher, tweeted his condolences and demanded that “the authorities…repair the country’s highways”. Unfortunately, plugging a few potholes is unlikely to solve the problem. In the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Competitiveness Report, Dominican road quality actually ranked well above average, ahead of countries like Italy and Norway. The highways connecting its big cities to major tourist areas like Punta Cana are widely viewed as modern and in good condition.
Instead, thorny political, economic and cultural factors have conspired against Dominican motorists. The government’s nominal motorcycle-helmet and seat-belt laws apply only to drivers, not passengers, and enforcement of speed limits and drunk-driving rules is lax. The WHO report scored its efforts in those areas just a three and a two out of ten. Less than 10% of tickets issued for vehicular infractions ever get paid, and drive-through liquor stores and alcohol sales at petrol stations expose drivers to constant temptation. Unions representing bus and taxi drivers have opposed proposed bills that could expose them to new regulation.
When crashes do occur, the mix of vehicles on Dominican roads makes them far more likely to be deadly. The country’s swingeing tropical heat and a widespread fear of being mugged or pickpocketed while walking has led to high demand for short-distance taxi rides. With unemployment at 14%, many Dominicans looking for work have responded by scraping out a living ferrying passengers on motoconchos, or motorcycle taxis, which are extremely popular because of their low cost and ability to navigate back roads in rural areas. Such drivers routinely pack multiple passengers onto their back seats without helmets.
Stepping up regulation and enforcement would go a long way towards reducing the number of Dominicans who will suffer Mr Taveras’s fate. But even a firm government crackdown on dangerous driving can only go so far. The final missing piece in any comprehensive programme to improve road safety would be a public-education campaign to combat the hallowed roles of drinking and speeding in Dominican culture. In 1976 the merengue singer Johnny Ventura lamented that “mi mujer y el radar no me dejan vacilar” (my woman and the radar won’t let me have fun). It is high time that today’s celebrities—and above all baseball players—started to convey the opposite message.