Government retreats
Administration to adjust legislation pertaining to child restraint system
A November 2022 file photo of taxis in downtown Kingston. Several taxi operators have criticised the provision in the new Road Traffic Act, which requires them to have child restraint seats installed when transporting young children.

THE Government announced on Friday that it will be making amendments to the Road Traffic Act (RTA) or its regulations in light of public concerns raised regarding the requirement for a child restraint system in public passenger vehicles (PPVs).

Following deliberations on the matter for over an hour during Cabinet's retreat on Friday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a press statement at the Office of the Prime Minister, said the adjustments will be done as quickly as possible.

"It may come in the form of amendments to the regulations, which can be done very quickly by a ministerial direction which may not necessarily need to go to Parliament or, if it does, as soon as possible in Parliament," he said.

He noted that there has to be even further discussion around safety in public transportation, which will need wider debate and possibly an amendment to the law itself as well as its regulations, "which may come in a month or two or so, depending on how fast we can move with consultations and further deliberations on the matter".

The Government has been heavily criticised about the impracticality of the provision, especially as it applies to taxis and other public passenger vehicles.

In his address on Friday, Holness stressed that the Government pays attention to what the public says, noting that "your views inform our action, and all governments try to be or should try to be in sync with the perspectives that are expressed by citizens and try to balance them even when the perspectives often differ".

The prime minister also expressed the Government's concern and sympathy for those persons who have been inconvenienced in any way by the enforcement of the requirements under the new legislation.

"We gather that there have been some public transport operators who have said that they are unwilling to carry children, and that gives us a point of entry into the conversation. The objective of the provision in the law was specifically to provide for the safety of our children, and as a country I think all Jamaicans agree that the law should have in it elements that provide for the safety of our children so I don't think that there is any disagreement there — and anyone who would disagree with that would be totally unreasonable," he said.

He said the Government has considered whether the implementation of this particular provision in the law adds to the unsafe environment for children, insisting that "we wouldn't want…our children to be in an unsafe position because they cannot get access to public transportation and so the Government has to consider this very carefully".

"The police have considered it very carefully as well, as there might be other issues of enforcement that they encounter. And, I take note as well that the police commissioner has issued a statement which essentially is saying that the police will exercise a certain level of discretion on this matter and will police it as it was under the old Act," he said.

Holness insisted, however, that the Government "cannot and will not go back to the old way of making laws and enforcement", noting that "we are happy that finally the public is at a position where they see their Government enforcing its law".

He reiterated that the provision is not new (having been in the law from as far back as 2001) and has had bipartisan support. Holness said the difference is that the provision is now being enforced for the first time in the public transportation system.

"People now see that we are serious about public order. Public order is a convenience for all but it will inconvenience some. The Government has to manage this process to make sure that the ultimate objective of public order is achieved — and that ultimate objective is that every Jamaican can feel safe in manoeuvring a public space," he said.

In a news release on Thursday the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), which is chaired by the prime minister, said that the requirement for child restraint seats in motor vehicles will be one of the issues dealt with in the first weekly review of the new Road Traffic Act.

"The Government has taken note of the concerns regarding the requirement to convey a child in the appropriate child restraint system. The provision was first incorporated in the Road Traffic Act in 2001 and was specifically deliberated by the joint select committee, chaired by Dr Omar Davies in 2015, which recommended that "the Act require that a child would have to be in a restraint system while being transported in a motor vehicle", the release said.

The release said that in order to strengthen the implementation of the new RTA, Holness has directed the NRSC to undertake weekly reviews and provide reports on the enforcement and effectiveness of the measures as well as any concerns expressed by the public.

"The Government recognises that with these significant changes to the road traffic laws and enhanced enforcement, a period of consistent review has to be undertaken to ensure the engagement of the entire nation and to achieve a high level of compliance," the council said, adding that the seat restraint system will be discussed at the next meeting of the NRSC on February 9, 2023.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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