With over 130 000 vehicles on this nation’s small network of roads, it falls on the shoulders of our elected officials to ensure strict laws are implemented that address the safety of the travelling public. It is therefore hoped that the proposed changes to the Road Traffic Act help to restore order on our roads, and that they can be stringently enforced to effect positive change.
The amendments to the Road Traffic Act cover a number of areas. These proposed changes come not a moment too soon to address the growing disrespect on Barbados’ roads, which has spawned a culture of recklessness, lawbreaking and cavalier attitude on the part of some road users. When alcohol is added to mix, it is a recipe for disaster. It is well known that some public service vehicle (PSV) drivers drink liquor while operating a PSV on its route. They’re not exactly hiding; in fact, they openly display the bottles of alcoholic beverages or stop by shops to procure these beverages, as Minister Michael Lashley pointed out. In what would be a groundbreaking move, police would have authority under the redesigned Act to randomly stop drivers for alcohol and drug testing. Furthermore, if a vehicular accident results in death or serious injury, drivers would be required to provide blood or urine samples for testing. Road safety advocates and insurance companies have repeatedly called for such a feature over the years, and this news is indeed welcome.
Of special interest is the provision for fines for littering and parking in the designated spots of persons with disabilities. Able-bodied drivers have for too long poached spaces from those who are incapacitated in some physical form. For this to be enforced, there will need to be constant monitoring of carparks from security personnel to catch offenders. Inasmuch as littering via vehicle needs to be addressed, further clarity will be needed to manage the complexities that can occur. Based on Minister Lashley’s comments, the driver of the vehicle from which garbage is disposed would be fined $200 or have to spend three months in jail or both. How would this apply to government-owned vehicles, such as Transport Board buses, especially if the guilty party is a child? Though littering is its own type of pollution, there is another issue not immediately mentioned in the proposed changes, but which should be seriously considered in the future. Some vehicles, for example, emit noxious plumes of exhaust that cause respiratory disturbances to motorists and pedestrians.
Long overdue is the provision for companies that manufacture licence plates to be authorised by the Licensing Authority. This is especially important given the number of stolen vehicles with false plates that have appeared on our nation’s roads, frustrating the efforts of police to apprehend car thieves.
As timely as these provisions are, we are hopeful that enforcement will be equally as swift when the Act is passed so it can work as well as intended. As with other areas on Barbados’ law books – crimes against praedial larceny, for example – too few are caught in the act, while many more go unpunished. Hopefully, there can be full crackdown on poor driving practices so that the thousands of road users on our roads have a much safer experience.