A social problem can be defined in different ways. Definitions by policy analysts have momentous consequences, both political and economical. An accepted definition of a social problem will dictate the actions taken to solve it. An incorrect definition mandates an inappropriate policy instrument to address it and therefore government policy is likely to be ineffective.
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Thus, the correct problem definition is the key element to policy analysts’ success in policymaking. David and Roger (1993) suggested this by stating that “problem definition is fundamental to public policymaking, intertwined as it is with the political process throughout the activities of issue initiation, program design and legislative enactment” (p. 58).
They also argued that problem definition was a political expression that provided the answers to all essential questions regarding policy.
Nature of the Traffic Safety Problem in Oman
Severity depicts the seriousness of the problem of traffic safety and its consequences. The occurrence of traffic accidents in Oman has helped in putting this problem in the limelight and give it public attention.
Websites such as the Salim and Salimah (2005) ‘Safe and Sound Road Safety’ rules, the royal Oman police traffic safety and social websites like the Traffic Safety Oman Facebook page have acted as tools to show the severity of this problem.
Admitting the existence of the problem, the policy analysts officially characterized it as a catastrophic and noted that it deserves taking corrective measures. This has led to the formation of the road traffic institute of Oman, which trains drivers and provides driving test exams.
The scope of people affected and those at risk of being affected by this problem is probably the most contributing factor to making the definition of this problem less debatable. The problem of traffic safety is growing and at an exponential rate. For example, in 92 road accidents were injured about 39 people. PDO and the ROP are aimed at changing behavior of drivers and ultimately saving lives.
When a traffic serious mishap occurs, the attention it gets is overwhelming. However, as time passes, it fades from the public and media and policy analysts’ minds. This is only true to that particular mishap because another one occurs almost immediately or even before the public recovers from the first one. Actually, traffic safety is an issue that lacks a particular solution, only tips and bits.
These include mandatory wearing of seat belts, obeying road signs and traffic lights and not driving while being drunk (obeying traffic rules). However, this only helps in reducing the damage caused by an accident or tries to prevent the problem. Thus, tension arises as the issue is publicized and onlookers expect resolution, yet no consensus exists within the political system on how to tackle the problem (David & Roger, 1993).
Although these solutions bring about the unnecessary and impractical concerns such as traffic lights, it can cause traffic jams that are unnecessary. Safety belts may lock and when a car is on fire can trap people in a vehicle.
According to a survey conducted, results suggest that Oman has one of the highest rates of traffic accidents worldwide. Nearly 6000 people have been severely injured – some of them were disabled for the rest of their lives (David & Roger, 1993). Novelty thus has helped in convincing policy analysts that traffic safety is a problem worth defining in order to find a long lasting, if not permanent solution.
The problem of traffic safety is a problem of every individual. 72% of the GUtech students and staff have relatives or friends who died because of road accidents. The post trauma suffered by the family is usually overlooked when accidents occur.
The need for more professional advisers has been made necessary due to the need to help family members heal from the pain brought about due to loss of their loved ones. The proximity of this problem to everybody has made it indispensable thus worth defining.
Traffic safety requires corrective action, “according to the Royal Oman Police (ROP), 42% of the dead and injured were children under the age of 25 years” (Salim and Salimah, 2005).
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The statistics are grim: during an eight-year period, more than 6,500 people were killed and more than 75,000 injured in auto accidents on Oman’s roads. With a population just under three million, this sultanate on the Arabian Peninsula has one of the worst reported road crash fatality rates in the world, according to Al Mustadaama (‘Sustainability’), an independent Omani social research enterprise.
Causes of the Traffic Safety Problem in Oman
The major cause of traffic safety problem in Oman is an individual behavior of drivers. Human error and carelessness of drivers cause the majority of accidents. A lecturer in GUtech was surprised by the interest of students of the school as they visited the Traffic Safety Institute to find out more about the causes of accidents and the reason why they are escalating.
The main causes of car crashes on Omani roads are careless driving, over-speeding, bad driving, the use of mobile phones during driving and the lack of seatbelts (Salim and Salimah, 2005). The weather is also to be blamed. Unfavorable weather, such as sandstorms, causes poor visibility, thus accidents.
Some roads are in poor conditions due to the failure by institutions mandated to maintain them carrying out their responsibilities e.g. potholes, these roads can cause tire bursts. Some roads are also either narrow, slid, and or have sharp bends. The internal roads in the Wilayat of Al Seeb, which were damaged during last year’s weather conditions, remain in dreadful condition.
Several cracks and potholes can be seen on these roads posing a serious threat to drivers. Some of the roads in this area connecting coastal areas are totally cut and some of the roads in residential areas are yet to be repaired. Residents in these areas have urged the Muscat Municipality officials several times to take urgent steps to repair the faulty roads. Residents say that motorists face several problems during rush hours.
People living near the Al Seeb police station also complained about the terrible road conditions. Social and problematic conditions, e.g. drunk driving have also acted as a multiplier to the traffic safety problem, according to (Salim & Salimah, 2005), it has been argued that the main cause of accidents is not the roads condition, but the careless mistakes by the humans.
This is cause by their negligence and lack of prudence. Driving under the influence of alcohol can be likened to an avalanche – it is the most dangerous.
Characteristics of the Problem Population
Since the main cause of road accidents is human error, the target population here is mainly the drivers. Everybody is also part of the problem since the pedestrians or passengers may not obey traffic signs or do not wear seat belts. The affected population is, surprisingly, children. This is according to Salim and Salimah (2005), 96% of all children killed (180,500 in 2002) because of road traffic injuries.
Even if the children are not directly involved, it is their breadwinners and guardians that are. These two populations are different in such a way that the affected population is the one, which actually depends on the target population to provide a solution.
Possible Policy Solutions
Problem definition cannot be done based on one fact. It is ambiguous and is based on social indicators.
Policy making depends on the problem definition, for example, observers may define the problem of road safety as one of severity in nature caused by poor infrastructure and affecting motorists, while participants who have been affected define it as one of crisis in nature caused by institutional failure, and/or a health hazard and national disaster to children.
The first definition, which is strategic, if accepted by policy makers will lead to the repair of roads, road signs, road building and increasing of vehicle standards of safety. The building of driver training institutions, will directly lead to the economical advantaging of certain companies.
Technical studies for a bulk of the massive project are still being carried out, but Omani officials say they are close to announcing the winners of a bid to begin the first 45km of the project. If policy makers embrace the second definition, it will probably trigger public education, institutional overhauls and free treatment of accidental victims, especially children.
Summary and conclusion
In conclusion, problem definition is so far the most indispensable tool to policy analysts and makers in creating solutions. The definitions given will exclusively dictate the pathway to the solution and therefore this should be made impartially not to fit economical and political motives.
However, it would help the affected population and educate the target population. The commitment to make the roads safe is a sign of humanness. It shows that people have respect for others. Road safety is something that people should ensure for the others (salim & salimah, 2005).
David, A. R., & Roger, W. C. (1993). Problem Definition, Agenda Access, and Policy Choice. Policy Study Journal, 21(1), 56-71.
Salim, A., & Salimah, J. (2005). Road traffic crashes. Oman: Al Mustadaama, LLC.