photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Jean-Michel Carollo (62) rode a motorcycle for 40 years without being in a single accident. Until he tried to overtake a car on Sint Maarten in 2017 who turned without using its turn signal.

Doctors considered amputating his leg twice: right after the accident and one year later after it had gotten infected a few times. “Walking, standing, swimming, working, it’s all harder to do now. But I’m happy that I’m still here”, he says.

Since the start of the year, seven motorcyclists have passed away. The number of traffic accidents is relatively high on the entire island. So on Sint Maarten and the French side of the island, which together have 80.000 official inhabitants.

There have been fewer traffic accidents on the French side this period compared to the same period last year, but more with a fatal outcome: five individuals have passed away this year on a motorcycle (and three in a car). According to the newspapers, two motorcyclists have passed away thus far this year on the Dutch side.

‘There’s no border on the island when it comes to this subject’-Dr. Fire

A lot of the victims are young. Back in April two young men were involved in two separate accidents in the French Quarter, close to the border between the French and Dutch side.
Aldric Benjamin, also known as Dr. Fire, spurred on by those accidents decided to start a road safety campaign. During the previous months he posted short films on Facebook with both well known and lesser known islanders who warn drivers about road safety. They’ve been viewed thousands of times. “There’s no border on the island when it comes to this subject. We all use the same roads.”

Last year the gendarmerie listed the reckless driving behavior of motorcycle and scooter drivers as one of the main priorities it wants to tackle. With the help of other organizations they provide road safety guidance to young individuals. The gendarmerie has destroyed 80 scooters in the past 4 months.
The police on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten didn’t provide us with information despite several requests to do so.

‘Some of the drivers here seem not to value life’ – Jean-Michel Carollo

Carollo notices that a lot of motorcyclists are reckless. “Some of the drivers here seem not to value life. They drive too fast, on one wheel, without a helmet, and without protective gear.” But motorcycles aren’t the only problem according to him. “Some people give right of way to those on the right, others to those on the left. No one cares about the rules here. Even if you pay attention, you’re not the only one on the road.”

Shouldn’t the guidance be something that the government provides? Benjamin: “Sure. But I think people will pay more attention if the information comes from the community and not from the government.”

Besides the films he’s also made bumper stickers and he wants to place signs at a few dangerous points on the roads. Benjamin also wants to bring his campaign to other islands such as Anguilla, Saba, and Statia.

Numbers in perspective

The police on Sint Maarten didn’t want to share its data. The French Office of the Public Prosecutor did: in 2018 there were 65 accidents leading to 7 casualties (5 on St. Barts). There were 6 motorcycles involved and one quad. In 2017 there were 88 accidents leading to 3 casualties and in 2016 38 accidents leading to 6 casualties.
For comparison: 678 individuals passed away in the Netherlands last year due to traffic accidents, 80 of which were on a motorcycle or scooter. The Netherlands however has a population of 17,2 million.