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Highway robbery and other sins

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Last week’s sudden and apparently devastating realisation that our highways and byways are governed by traffic laws betrays longstanding denial of the fact that the most significant criminal hotspots in T&T have indeed been the nation’s roads.

Based on a 2013 transport ministry estimate, up to 35,000 road accidents occur here on an annual basis. The largest block of the more serious ones is typically characterised by speed and/or substance abuse of one kind or the other, usually the consumption of alcohol.

But, so shocked have some drivers been about this sudden, apparently unknown piece of legislation, the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, a few of them have reportedly formed a new pressure group to work toward the reform of the Act and associated laws and regulations. They have described the use by police of new speed detection devices as an act of official “highway robbery” at $1,000 a pop—degree of transgression notwithstanding.

It is my understanding that the group plans on calling itself the Trinidad Islandwide Indignant Drivers Association (TIIDA) and comprises a wide cross-section of the car-owning community including doctors, engineers, teachers, police officers, journalists and truck and maxi taxi drivers all crying foul over the move to suddenly impose what they have termed “oppressive,” albeit old, speed limits.

So it is that TIIDA has put forward the following recommendations for consideration by its membership. According to association spokesman, D Wetmann, an online petition will be launched soon, calling on the authorities to do the following:

1. Impose a maximum speed limit of 200 kph and become the first country in the world to do so. This would put us in the Guinness Book of World Records and earn us special recognition in the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety. This will be right up there with Carnival’s designation as The Greatest Show on Earth, Fatboy of Curepe’s Best Doubles in the World and our reputation as land of the World’s Most Honest Politicians. Think tourism dollars.

2. Amend Section 71A (1) of the Act which dictates that “A person who drives a motor vehicle dangerously on a road commits an offence,” by replacing the word “dangerously” with “slowly.”
Slow-pokes driving at 80 kph and below on the highway are the ones who cause the most accidents because swerving away from them and “losing control” of our cars leads to serious damage and destruction to utility poles, walls, other cars, passengers and pedestrians who should, in any event, go out and buy a car.

3. Increase the blood alcohol limit under Section 70A (1) to cater for people who can drink a case of beer or a bottle of puncheon rum and still remember who they voted for in the last election. There should also be an exemption for people who drink expensive whisky, vodka or champagne because…don’t you know how much they paid for the stuff?

What is even more frightening to all concerned is Section 70(B) (4) which says: “Where a person referred to…is at a hospital as a patient, he may be required by a constable to give a specimen of breath at the hospital.” Believe us, a “specimen of breath” after beers and puncheon can be murder.

4. Amend the Litter Act to permit the dumping of no more than one food box on the street provided it was the intention of the thrower to aim for (a) the drain (b) over someone’s wall or (c) the open tray of a parked pickup truck. For two food boxes, it should have been the intent to throw them in somebody’s yard.

5. Though this has been proposed before, use of vehicles for “private hire” (PH) should be legalised. This should be so not only because they play the best music, but their drivers seem to make enough money to compensate injured passengers not covered by what would become useless insurance policies in the event of an accident. They are also very competent drivers who can do 120 kph on a narrow street. Members of Parliament who lobby for this will earn themselves free trips to and from their homes in these vehicles.

6. Repeal Section 27 (1) which talks about vehicles “so constructed or is in such a condition as to constitute a health, safety or environmental hazard to any person travelling in the vehicle or to other members of the public.”
This needs to be acted upon quickly, because someday soon, somebody is going to start arguing that noise pollution can be described as constituting an “environmental hazard” and many of us would have to go back to the muffler man to replace the impressive exhaust pipes that continue to attract scores of young women to our vehicles.

7. Repeal Section 43A (1) which dictates that front seat passengers always wear seat belts. This is a particular obstruction when (a) pouring expensive liquor for the driver (b) lighting a spliff and (c) spinning around to slap noisy children in the backseat.

8. Permit use of mobile phones, but only if you aren’t already eating a bowl of hot soup or a chicken roti (with bones) or looking at music videos on your dashboard DVD player.
These radical reforms are certain to make life easier for all concerned. Support TIIDA by signing its online petition today!


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