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The fines are coming! The fines are coming!

Barbara GLOUDON

Friday, June 13, 2014    

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THE statistics speak for themselves. Careless and delusional behaviour on our roads is costing us dearly. There is no real price which can be put on lives lost, crippling injuries suffered, and the emotional debt which cannot be repaid as useful members of families are removed from their midst because someone wanted to get to the head of a traffic line.

In 1938, a Road Traffic Act was passed by Government to create order on our roads. It happened in a simple time compared to where we are now. It is no longer horse and buggy. It is now vehicles with a capacity for speed which nobody in '38 would have imagined. Today, we rush everywhere -- and pay a higher price for it.

Our roads are nowhere adequate enough to meet the demands placed on them. In even the smallest, deep-rural village, there is traffic and complaints about road conditions. We love to give ourselves self-denigrating titles. So, we declare that we have "some of the worst roads in the world" and seem proud to boast of our records for bad driving while ignoring the consequent fatalities and injuries.

At last we are waking up to the stark truth that "it cyaan gwaan so". A Bill to repeal the 1938 Road Traffic law has been tabled in Parliament with the intention to have it replaced with more relevant legislation which can provide stiffer penalties for road offences. It is intended that a range of increased punishments will be facing us as soon as the new legislation comes into effect. A report presented in Parliament last week gave a taste of things to come and already the public is not too pleased with the promised leap in the fines. It is being argued that, if the fines are so high, offenders will not be able to pay them, so what purpose will they serve in bringing the road mayhem under control?

The counter argument is that something has to be done. We cannot continue the way we have been going. Too many deaths... too many injuries... too high a rise in vehicle insurance because of the huge payouts to victims and drivers of vehicles involved in crashes. The increases are really steep, considering the starting point.

Driving without insurance coverage, for instance, will bring a $45,000-fine. Drivers of unlicensed vehicles will have to hand over $45,000. Failing to obey red lights and stop signs, fines will soar to $24,000. Drivers who exceed the limit by 50 km or more stand to face a $45,000-fine or one month's imprisonment. There are to be many more "price gone up" for drivers who flout the law. Cellphone users, beware. Using your phone while driving will cause $10,000 to come out of your pocket.

Not surprisingly, motorists are not amused. The street view is that this is not so much about road safety as another way of Government wringing the last drop of blood from poor people by another form of taxation. Only in Jamaica do the poor have so much to tax.

Early opinions are being heard on radio call-in shows. The majority does not think well of what they hear is in store for them. They do not buy the argument that that is the way to curb the disorder and recklessness on the roads. So the people respond: A) Defer the fines until all roads are fixed. B) It is not people's fault why they drive so fast on the roads, good or bad. Now people are saying, "the roads are not built properly. The surface is too smooth". C) Will the police be fined when they drive fast, too? D) What will poor people do? E) Corruption will be rampant.

It is going to be a hard sell to get the public to go along with the changes and not waste time in demonstrations and road blocks. Anybody can see that Government must act and act decisively to bring the road madness to a halt, but nobody wants to pay for it. The Government's rationale for the higher fines seems to be that if you hit them in the wallet, then people will avoid breaking the law and become more responsible.

Then there is the deep-rooted cynicism about corruption. It must hurt the decent members of the Constabulary to hear the way people are talking about bribes which, it is said, will accompany the new increased fines. Of course, no one will admit that: "If there were no givers of bribes, there would be no takers." The questions continue. How will the police monitor the roads now? Are there enough traffic cops to catch the offenders? Some are even complaining that the speed guns and breathalyser tests were not gazetted, and therefore are not legal (after all this time). Will their arguments hold? How will that be dealt with? People have also raised the idea of speed cameras being introduced in hot spots. A new digital system is supposed to be implemented so that drivers won't rack up hundreds of tickets which are left unpaid as happened in the past.

The list of infringements, as detailed in the Bill tabled in Parliament, could make anyone ask, "Where else can you find so many infringements in one little country?" There is certain to be resistance to the new proposals, which is why it would be good sense for Government to get started on sensitising the public. Be open to them and encourage co-operation. If that is going to be left for the last minute, then expect confrontation.

In the ideal situation, the authorities would have a massive public education programme ready and set to go before the new system is brought in. Offenders will attempt to plead innocence, claiming that they didn't know the new rules. Ignorance is no excuse. This is not 1938. We do not have to wait for the town crier to arrive. We can access the information if we want, and there is a lot to learn.

One pet peeve of mine, which I do not see addressed in the new Bill, is the consequences for motorists who 'run-jostle' against emergency vehicles on their way to save lives and property. Drivers who refuse to get out of the way should pay.

To reinforce further the challenges ahead, look at some of the "new menu" of fines which is in the offing. The first Road Traffic Act became law on All Fools' Day, April 1, 1938. This time there is no chance for joke. The list of new fines should be taken seriously, eg A) Blowing the horn just because you feel to could land you a $12,000-fine. B) No seat belt will cost the passenger $10,000 and the driver $15,000. (The current fine is $500) C) Pillion riders without a helmet, hand over $15,000.

For careless and reckless driving, there's a fine of $200,000, five years' imprisonment and a 12-month disqualification. If that action causes a death, a quarter-million-dollar fine is proposed. Too much? But what does a life cost? Get real.

Memo to Government:

Re: the proposals for new toll road rates, we know that there is agreement for the operators to make back their investment but tell them, please tek time. Too much, too soon.

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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