MPs agree to education campaign for new Road Traffic Act
A Jamaica Observer file photo of a motorcycle which crashed on Half-Way- Tree Road in St Andrew. Motorcyclists accounted for 34 per cent of road fatalities last year.

PARLIAMENTARIANS on both sides of the aisle have called for a comprehensive public education campaign on the provisions and implications of the new Road Traffic Act (RTA) in order to ensure that motorists do not unwittingly commit offences.

Driving home the call made by Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester North Western Mikael Phillips in the House of Representatives on Tuesday for the public awareness campaign, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton pointed to the parish of Westmoreland which has a high number of motorcycle crashes.

He said during a tour of the men's surgical ward at Savanna-la-Mar Hospital he discovered that about 30 per cent of the beds on that ward were occupied by motorcycle crash victims.

"Some interesting stories came out of that anecdotal experience. For starters, none of them were in the hospital for less than three weeks, in some instances up to three months, either because of the severity of their injuries or they were waiting on the pins and implants to put their limbs back together," the health minister told colleague MPs.

The discussion arose in the debate on the regulations of the Road Traffic Act (2022), which were brought to the House by portfolio Minister Audley Shaw.

According to the health minister, more than 90 per cent of those he spoke to were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash, and there were cases of motorcycles crashing into each other.

Dr Tufton said the regulations were timely, but the concern about enforcement was a valid one because the law will not serve its purpose if it is not enforced.

"The law means nothing if we can't enforce it. It's a national challenge and crisis, but it is particularly strong in certain parishes," he stressed, noting the proliferation of "bike taxis" in Westmoreland.

"Nobody [is wearing] a helmet, sometimes very young children. The time has come for us to educate the public and enforce the law," he stated.

The call for public education was also supported by Dr Morais Guy and MP for St Catherine Southern Fitz Jackson, who pointed out that during the deliberations on the new RTA by a joint select committee in 2015, it was clear that there would be need for a massive public education programme due to the extensive changes.

"We don't want to unreasonably make criminals out of people. We can't expect much of our driving public to be aware of these changes though they exist in law. It is the responsibility of Government to adequately inform the citizens so that they can be aware. Before the Act comes into effect, a minimum of three months' public education campaign should be in place," he said.

Phillips and Jackson also argued that the police should not be left to address infractions subjectively, and appropriate equipment should be in place to assess the offences in a standard manner, including motor vehicle emissions and noise nuisances.

"There must be some means of instantaneously establishing breach before somebody is hauled before the courts. The State cannot impose these onerous situations on our people. We don't want the truly innocent people to be penalised," Jackson said.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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