Use full force
Dr Lucien Jones wants maximum penalty for reckless drivers
Police gather evidence at this crash scene on Highway 2000 in 2021. Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council, says the cost to the health sector and the country is too much, and the signal sent to reckless motorists should be commensurate with that cost. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

VICE-CHAIRMAN of the National Road safety Council (NRSC) Dr Lucien Jones says motorists who drive recklessly and under the influence of mind-altering substances causing fatal crashes should be dealt the full brunt of the law.

"The question really is what kind of signal do you want to send to people who are driving recklessly, or driving under the influence of alcohol, knowingly, in the context of living in a country which has so many people dying on our roads. Anybody who is found to be guilty of reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or any other mind-altering substance; anybody who has ignored the warning about the use of cellphones while driving, which is a major issue, then that person deserves to feel the full fore of the law being applied in their case," Dr Jones told the Jamaica Observer on Friday.

He was speaking against the background of multiple murder and gross vehicular manslaughter charges being laid against a nurse in California, United States, for causing a fiery multi-car collision, which left six people dead, including a pregnant woman. The nurse is facing a potential 90-year prison sentence.

Dr Jones said the cost to the health sector and the country is too much, and the signal sent to reckless motorists should be commensurate with that cost. "Then [in light of the consequences] you put together a package that says to the country that road safety is serious business, and therefore you need to be much more careful in how you drive. You're sending a strong signal; that's what you want to do. What you can do is make sure the maximum penalty is applied in cases where you have multiple deaths and deaths resulting from people driving carelessly, or repeat offenders, which makes it even worse," he stressed.

Firefighters at the scene of a nasty crash in Tre;lawny in 2020

At the same time, head of the police's Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) Assistant Commissioner of Police Gary McKenzie explained that if a crash is fatal, those found to be at fault usually find themselves facing charges of manslaughter or causing death by dangerous driving, as the main offence, but that is not all.

"There could also be attendant offences, because if papers are not correct then those could be added, and if vehicles are defective and so on you could be prosecuted for no motor vehicle insurance, unlicensed, no valid certificate of fitness. If it is not fatal, then it could be careless or dangerous driving, exceeding the speed limit, vehicle parked in a dangerous manner, and so on," he said, noting that manslaughter charges could carry custodial penalties of up to nine months in some cases: "It could be a fine and if you don't pay it, then there is a custodial fine, as well as you could have a fine and sentence." McKenzie said there have been instances here, where individuals are charged with murder stemming from vehicular crashes.

"We have had crashes that have been investigated dually, meaning that it is investigated from a traffic collision perspective or a murder perspective. Cases like those have actually happened. What could be a pure crash where we have the traffic investigators, there are some cases based on the circumstance, that we call a detective to actually look at it," he explained. He said, too, there have been cases where single-vehicle crashes are suspected of being deliberate and the drivers investigated for homicide, as a result. New road traffic regulations were passed in Parliament recently, and will effect stiffer monetary penalties for breaches, hold motorists accountable for traffic tickets, and generally bring order to the current chaotic situation on the nation's streets, thereby reducing crashes and the high number of resulting fatalities.

So far, 298 people have died as a result of 261 fatal crashes across the island, 39 more persons than at the similar period in 2020, and four less than last year. The latest fatalities were three males who perished in incidents in Trelawny and St Catherine, on Thursday.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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