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How to solve the traffic ticketing problem

BY KEITH GARDENER

Monday, January 28, 2013    

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The Road Traffic Act of Jamaica (1935) was introduced as part of Jamaica's commitment to international law. In addition to its regulations, it proscribes, among other things, the licensing of vehicles, drivers, the description of road markings and signs, rules of the road and the penalties for breaching them.

Drivers and operators of motor vehicles, almost all of whom breach one or more aspect of the Act and its regulations, do not consider themselves to be criminals, and resent being treated as such. In my over 49 years of experience as a law enforcement officer, and head of the Police Traffic Department for six years, I have issued more than 8,000 traffic tickets and summonses.

I have come to the conclusion that virtually all the professions — politicians, judges, policemen, medical doctors, teachers, pilots, lawyers — have breached (out of absolute necessity) one or more of the provisions, be it speeding, failing to affix seat belts, driving an unlicensed motor vehicle, or driving a vehicle with no valid certificate of fitness.

Enforcement of these provisions often brings the police in conflict with members of the motoring public and often the police will find little support in their efforts to enforce the law. In the early 1990s, the Government introduced the traffic ticketing and points system legislation in an effort to:

* Reduce the tension between citizens and the police — which often involves passengers in public carriers;

* Save the amount of time wasted by the police and motorists in the Courts;

* save costs; and

* promote an effective and efficient collection of fines.

However, the tax administrative structures implemented were flawed from the beginning.

In the first instance the computerised system located at the Traffic Central and Regional Headquarters, those at the courts and those at the Tax Administration Department (Collector of Taxes) where not capable of interfacing with each other. As such, the arrangement was that the information relating to the issuing of traffic tickets, payment of those traffic tickets and adjudication in the Courts were captured separately, saved on floppy disk, transported to Regional Headquarters and finally to Central Headquarters were the information was inputted by data entry clerks.

Among the flaws was the system's susceptibility to corruption, as the data could be erased at any given time.

In addition, the computerised system, which was said to have been one of the most advanced in the region and the world during the 90s, was not Y2K-compliant, and on December 31, 1999 the system crashed. Valuable data relating to traffic offenders were lost.

It was not until September 21, 2010 that the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Tax Administration Department introduced a ticketing system that facilitated greater compliance with the Road Traffic Act.

But, as was later discovered, this system too was flawed, as thousands of motorists, who either paid their fine or had their matters adjudicated in Court, were still recorded on the system as not complying with the provisions of the Act.

Nowhere in the budget debates of 2011 and 2012 between both political parties was any mention made of promoting the safety of road users.

Indeed, Mr Delroy Chuck, who in his contribution to the debate in Parliament in 2012 admitted that while at the Ministry of Justice in 2011 he understood that the ministry had no money; and the question then was, how could the ministry get some funds to assist with repairing courthouses.

He had heard that the ministry would receive 18 per cent of all traffic fines, which was estimated to be around $360,000,000.

The reservation of the minister of national security regarding the "unrealistic estimate of what the traffic ticket amnesty will bring in" was vindicated after the measure failed to recover anymore than the 18 per cent or $360,000,000 anticipated by former minister Chuck. The 42 per cent or $840,000,000 of the $2 billion in outstanding traffic ticket fines that should have gone to the Ministry of National Security has not been realised.

Over one million traffic tickets are outstanding and, even if the amnesty was extended, it was not likely that a substantial number of offenders would comply. It means, therefore, that measures will have to be put in place to treat the situation.

This is a country of laws, not of man. Therefore, no man or woman, regardless of their status, is above the law. The principles on which good governance is based are predicated on the rule of law by which all men are equal before the law, and anything done by Government must be within the four walls of some legal authority.

The issue of traffic tickets, the payment and adjudication of same, as well as the granting of an amnesty must be within some specified statue. The police are members of the administrative arm of government, which is separate and apart from the judiciary and the legislative arms. It means, therefore, that matters relating to the enforcement of the law are the prerogative of the police.

The public official, therefore, must carry out the letter of the law and it is a breach of administrative law, and principle, for any officer to employ any discretion. If, for example, it is established that a warrant is in force for an offender, no member of the legislative arm can instruct or request that the law is not enforced, unless it is done through legislative influence of the two Houses of Parliament.

To deal with outstanding tickets, Government — even after extending the amnesty through an act of Parliament — must put in place a proper judicial system with enough judges throughout the island that will facilitate the establishment of Night Traffic Courts.

In a system were Government is averse to advice, any discussion regarding the policy processes of interest aggregation and interest articulation must be done in public fora, such as the media.

I am suggesting, therefore, that the only meaningful way of handling the traffic ticketing problem is to appoint sufficient judges to adjudicate these matters.

The Government should also provide adequate court facilities across the island to facilitate the adjudication of these matters. The cost of doing these things may appear prohibitive. However, a visit to the Kingston Traffic Court bears true testimony of the ordeal being suffered by motorists as they huddle outside the small courtroom where no seats are provided.

Inside the courtroom, the situation is reminiscent of the dark hole of Calcutta as the judges suffer the discomfort of heat and the indignity of shouting because the single fan in the courtroom disrupts communication between herself and persons before the court.

Inside the courtroom, the situation is reminiscent of the dark hole of Calcutta as the judges suffer the discomfort of heat and the indignity of shouting because the single fan in the courtroom disrupts communication between herself and persons before the court.

Parking is a nightmare, and motorists — often of necessity — continue to breach some of the very offences for which they were brought before the court by parking in a manner likely to obstruct traffic on the thoroughfare in the vicinity of the Court.

Traffic falls among other critical infrastructural needs like the construction of a public morgue, the construction of facilities for juvenile offenders, the building of appropriate courthouses such as the St Andrew Criminal Court in Half-Way-Tree , which are not treated with the urgency they deserve. The courthouses' lock-ups and public morgues continue to struggle in the 21st century with facilities that were designed to address pre-Independence conditions, some stretching as far back as six decades ago.

I hope that the public, and indeed the policymakers, will be better informed of the development relating to the Traffic Ticketing System and have discussions as to the best way forward.

This cannot be achieved by either intentional or unintentional deception through the improper delegation of authority.

Keith Gardener is a retired assistant commissioner of police, attorney-at-law, former head of the Police Traffic Division and tutor in administrative law at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, where he is also director of security.

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