Better Value For Our Money Than Another Road Safety Campaign
While the Chamber appreciates that Government cannot remain silent in the midst of the continual death of our citizens as a result of road accidents, we are of the view that the Ministerial reaction to the severe injury suffered by Acting Chief Justice Wendell Kangaloo as a result of an early morning collision on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway at Trincity, was simply a knee jerk one. We refuse to believe that the driver and occupants of the Honda Civic, which crossed the median and demolished the front of the Prado carrying Justice Kangaloo, did not know what constitutes illegal driving activities that could result in death. Neither do we believe that one more advertisement or a word of caution from loved ones, would have made the difference between life, death or serious injury. A uniformed policeman, on patrol, enforcing the laws which ensure road safety, just may have done the trick, though.
Consequently, the call by Justice Minister Volney for driving bans, increased fines and traps for drivers who exceed the speed limit, seem hollow. For several years now, this Chamber has repeatedly made a call, together with other road safety organisations, for the legislation of radar timing devices to prosecute those who have no respect for our speed limits, instead of the manual methods now used.
The Chamber has also for more than 12 years, lobbied for improvements in the ticket system, to make it more impactful, convenient to enforce by police officers and respected by violators. Generous corporate sponsors assisted us in downsizing the traffic regulations, to fit in the pockets of uniforms, while we continue to try to get someone to approve the downsizing of the ticket to be the same as the regulations. For several years, our national budget recommendations included the removal of ticket offences from the crowded lists of appearances before magistrates and placing them in a special traffic court.
Similarly, the proposal by Minister of Transport, Devant Maharaj, to immediately approach Cabinet to release funding for a massive road safety campaign seems just like another effort of dubious value, given the limited effect of such campaigns in the past. We believe that more security cameras and crash barriers as part of a practical, engineering solution along with proper enforcement by the relevant authorities would demonstrate better value for money.
The interview given by Head of the Traffic and Highway Police Branch, Senior Superintendent Dianand Naipaul to Guardian reporter Geisha Kowlessar, which appeared recently on May 16 gave a clear insight into the challenges of policing our roadways.
Out of a full strength of 400 traffic officers, only half are available for active duty. From this depleted rank, he must provide round the clock services for the State and foreign dignitaries. Added to this, are extra mobile policing requirements for various national activities and celebrations. SS Naipaul complained that officers trained to ride motorbikes are more interested in the “glamour” of learning to ride for their own purposes; thirty-five officers were trained last Christmas, but declined to be rostered for motorbike duty, a situation he seems powerless to overrule. In the Chamber’s opinion, Ministers Devant Maharaj, John Sandy and Police Commissioner Gibbs should first focus here, with a view to bringing the Branch up to full strength, training only those who are genuinely interested in this type of law enforcement, instituting revised rotating shifts to cover a 24/7 period, and compensating these officers appropriately. There ought to be no need to approach Cabinet for funding this, as cost of these resources, would have already been budgeted year after year.
Senior Superintendent Naipaul did not comment on the availability of vehicles to discharge the duties of the Branch. The Chamber has taken care of this in another column, where we criticised the strength of vehicles, out of which 300 were under repair, unavailable or unaccounted for! , How can the nation’s roads stand any chance of being impactfully patrolled, moreso, at weekends and public holidays, when there are not enough vehicles to do the job and active vehicles continue to suffer wear and tear.
Of course, the Chamber will support all efforts, even if not new, such as placing road safety on school curricula (although no doubt adding to already burdened teachers and limited teacher/pupil time; reviewing the training regimen of those seeking to secure Drivers Permits; the introduction of a Points System, increased use of the Defensive Driving programmes for new and not-so-new drivers or even another national “safe driving” campaign – for who knows, it may just penetrate the minds of some among our driving population.
The country has lost many valuable citizens through motor vehicular accidents and our disenchantment engaging in yet another road safety campaign is born from the fact that almost every pastor at any funeral for victims of road accidents, senior police officers, every Minister of National Security, the media, and corporate Trinidad and Tobago, have all, at some time, embarked on similar campaigns. Without a doubt, citizens must assume personal responsibility for their actions – the incorrect handling of high-speed vehicles on our roads, talking on cellular phones or texting while driving, loud speakers and visual devices, driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs simply cannot make for better driving. Until this responsible mental state is achieved, the only solution left is to enforce the laws more ardently
We all know the law, and when we break it. So too, the solutions. Let’s get to work immediately on the latter!