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Barbara O’Sullivan: Jamaica Automobile Association’s Safety Maven

By April 30, 2009No Comments


Barbara shows her famous smile as she talks with Response Technician Sydney Wedderburn.

She likes to organize. That has been her consistent theme since Barbara O’Sullivan started out as Secretary/Manager of what was then a small Jamaican automobile club in 1994 and before, in her previous roles.

“I love what I do,” she says, with her ever-present smile. Her passion is what inspires a deep devotion to the safety and welfare of the country’s road users.

Barbara came to the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA), after working in the civil service, sugar estates, bauxite industry and a building society. But, there has been one consistent theme throughout her career, “I was always interested in administrative work,” she says.

As the JAA’s Administrative Officer, she supervises its safety projects, membership discount programme and maintains relations with auto club’s international partners. The focus is on safety.

“We will do whatever we can to curtail the carnage on the roads,” she states. “We want to make Jamaican roads safer.”

It is a challenging task; however the number of road deaths in the island has been gradually decreasing since 2002, she notes. This achievement is heartening, given the fact that, there has been a steady increase in the number of registered vehicles on the roads.

Even more heartening has been the significant decrease in child fatalities between 1991 and 2007, following major safety campaigns and improved public awareness. The JAA, a member of the National Road Safety Council, joined with the Police Traffic Unit to host road safety demonstrations, to teach children good road safety habits, and show them how they should use pedestrian crossings correctly.

The simple act of repainting pedestrian crossings to ensure they are clearly delineated has helped improve safety, and several have now been upgraded.
“Two years ago the Association donated a truck to the Police Traffic Unit for its school’s safety programme, complete with props which simulate features of major roadways, to help students learn proper road usage techniques,” she explained.

Several technologies can enhance road safety, but ultimately, few are as effective as a focus on improving driver capabilities. The JAA has therefore established a training course for defensive driving to help improve driving skills.

“The focus of the defensive driving programme has been on company fleets, she outlined. The course has particular value as fleet drivers cover far more miles on the road than the average driver.

The automobile club has for years sustained a Road Safety Awareness campaign to educate Jamaicans about useful safety habits. One important aspect of this is the distribution of thousands of ‘Think Before You Drive’ booklets outlining road safety techniques.

“I am very interested in the Make Roads Safe Campaign,” Mrs. O’Sullivan pointed out. “It was launched in 2008, and is part of a wider campaign to improve road safety internationally.”

It helps that as the JAA Club Correspondent, her job involves handling programmes with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and maintaining contact with developments in the American Automobile Association. “We need to keep track of what others are doing to ensure that the JAA remains conversant with the latest developments.”

She is currently coordinating the JAA’s 2009 safety campaign, carried out in conjunction with the FIA, which aims to push the death toll on the roads below the 280 mark, compared with the 341 road deaths last year. “We believe that public education is the first step in bringing about positive changes in the attitudes of Jamaicans to road use,” she declared.

In that regard, the JAA has been providing public safety demonstrations, booklets, advertising, and information to the media, as part of its outreach programme. It also supports public forums for educational purposes.

When Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon. Bruce Golding signed the JAA/FIA Make Roads Safe petition in 2008, he was one of over 11,000 Jamaicans to endorse calls for the United Nations’ action to recognize road fatalities as a constraint to development, and to fund initiatives to improve road safety, especially in developing countries. Barbara says she is especially proud of that initiative to amass the signatures.

Her road safety focus goes beyond accident prevention, however. From its foundation in 1924, the JAA has played a key role in shaping the island’s overall automotive landscape.

A revitalized roadside assistance programme to help motorists in difficulty has been critical to the objective of making the roadways safe. The JAA offers a comprehensive package of services to automobile owners including: breakdown and accident assistance, chauffeur service, advice, and support to members on motor vehicles matters.

She says, “If anything happens, we will come to the rescue.”

The roadside assistance programme is reciprocal with other international automobile associations, and she personally takes responsibility, where/when members of overseas associations need assistance. This was the case when an OAMTC Austrian touring club member got stranded on a lonely North Coast Jamaican road, and got chauffeur-driven back to his hotel after contacting the JAA.

She says it is a point of principle for her to ensure that FIA club members visiting the island are treated as she would like Jamaicans to be treated when they are abroad.
In line with its original purpose, the JAA offers options to drivers to ease the burdens of vehicle ownership. Discounts are available from more than 200 merchants locally and over 155,000 internationally, via its ‘Show Your Card & Save’ merchant discount programme.
“We provide motorists with access to resources to enhance their driving experience, and reduce their costs,” Barbara says. One of her tasks is to ensure that merchants participating in the discount programme carry the JAA brand.

Another aspect of her job involves encouraging members to renew their contracts. She appears to be succeeding in her task as the membership has grown from a low of 1,300 in 2005 to more than 25,000 today.

The products and services available at discounted prices locally run the gamut from car care items to meals at restaurants, clothing, spa treatments, hotel accommodation, vacation attractions, stationery, as well as specialist services such as eye care.

“Once members start to show their JAA card and save, their level of satisfaction increases,” she says. “The probability of renewing their membership is almost guaranteed, as they begin to appreciate the value of their local and overseas discount benefits.”

New products, services, ownership and management structure have transformed the members club she came to, some fifteen years ago. The bright yellow JAA vans, motorbikes and mobile offices and accident help desks provide more than a splash of color to the island’s roadways; they provide an essential service for needy motorists.

Its transition into a rapidly growing subsidiary of the Jamaica National Building Society since 2004 has placed Mrs. O’Sullivan in the role of helping the JAA to remain grounded in its roots as it builds its future. She works in concert with a team of 20 administrative and technical staff, under the leadership of an indefatigable General Manager, Alan Beckford, to keep the organization humming.

“People are recognizing the JAA for what it is,” she says. “We are here to serve road users.”