Charge them Editorial

Stabroek News
December 29, 2001

The Ministry of Home Affairs has been conducting fora countrywide seeking citizens' recommendations on what traffic laws need to be changed to reduce the number of road deaths in the country. Most of the persons attending these sessions have called for the implementation of seat belt laws, proper care to be taken when licensing drivers, speed radar guns and breathalyzers for drunk drivers to be tested.

None of the recommendations made so far has addressed a fundamental problem, which has arisen and is growing. Young children four and five year olds are increasingly becoming road accident victims. Some because they were with their parents in a vehicle which crashed, others because they were either alone on the street or with a slightly older child/sibling who could not guide them.

A fitting recommendation to deal with this problem is to charge the parents. The police must be given the authority to arrest and file charges against parents who endanger the lives of small children by sending them out on the streets unattended.

It has also been noted that adults have a proclivity towards getting into the front seat of taxis and minibuses with babies and young children in their arms. The recommendation in this instance should be to charge the parent/adult as well as the driver and/or conductor of that vehicle.

In the United States and other developed countries, child passenger safety laws demand that: Infants (less than one year of age) should never be carried in the front seat of a car or truck; Infants must always ride in the rear seat, facing the rear of the motor vehicle; Infants and very young children should be in child safety seats; Young children should be correctly buckled using a booster seat. In most states in the US child restraint laws cover babies and young children up to four years of age or 40 pounds. And an initiative launched in the US in January 2001, if approved, will see all child restraint laws covering children up to age 16.

Drivers must still be made to observe speed limits, stop overcrowding their vehicles, stop playing loud music, stop drinking and driving and generally to comply with the 'Highway Code', but passengers must bear some responsibility for keeping their own lives safe. Parents must recognise that vehicular traffic has increased tenfold from the time they were children. The streets are not playgrounds.

Parents, too, must teach their children how to use the roads, but first many of them need to learn. The Road Safety Association must somehow find the wherewithal, perhaps by applying to a funding agency, to conduct a massive road safety education programme for adults, mainly pedestrians. A walk around the city on any given day, will find endless candidates for jaywalking charges, an immediate source of revenue, if the police could only be moved to implement the law. Pedestrians rarely stop at traffic lights anymore, whether red or green, working or not. What is sad is that many of them have children in tow, who, unfortunately, are learning by example.

Small children can be unpredictable, but they are their parents' responsibility. Recently, a driver was attacked and killed at the Georgetown Public Hospital in what may have been a road rage incident after he hit and killed a four year old child who ran across a busy street unattended. A similar fatal accident had occurred just the week before, and one would have thought that the parent/guardian of the second child would have remembered that and not sent that child out on the street. Perhaps more drastic measures need to be employed before parents learn.