More effort needed to halt road carnage

Stabroek News
December 20, 1999

The rising death toll on the roads of Guyana requires a fresh approach by law enforcement authorities to try to come up with a variety of responses to reverse the carnage.

Traffic deaths are sharply up over last year's figure and the human resources loss to the economy is significant. At the end of November, 168 persons had died on the roads compared to 134 last year. Seven people were killed in a four-vehicle collision at Happy Acres, East Coast Demerara earlier this month. This one case demonstrated how utterly ineffective the police have been in getting compliance with the rules of the road.

There is no magic solution. But there must be a constant reappraisal by the police of the steps taken to determine what is effective and what needs to be thrown out. In the latest edition of Eve Leary News, the police have recognised the need for "more drastic measures" to be adopted.

The police have been prone to pursuing public relations campaigns where hundreds of drivers are stopped and booked on minor offences for which the penalties are slight. For instance, Eve Leary News says that in excess of 70,000 traffic cases for speeding and other offences have been made out since July 14, 1999. While racking up impressive tallies, these onslaughts have not yielded a decrease in the amounts of fatalities and serious injuries on the roads. That is what really matters.

According to the police, recommendations have been made for a thorough review of the Motor Vehicles and Road Act covering a host of issues including speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, public transportation vehicles, qualification for licences and encumbrances. This review has been underway for sometime now and should be urgently concluded.

In terms of public transportation, two issues predominate. Speed and the qualifications of the driver. Many of the multiple fatality accidents involve public transportation and the police can reasonably be expected to focus more attention on this area. Legions of mini-bus drivers goad their machines as if their sole goal is breaking the sound barrier on each trip. Attaining compliance with speed limits may be virtually impossible in a climate of a complete breakdown in standards and respect for the law. The time has come for the public and the police to consider speed traps on mini-buses which will prevent them from exceeding the speed limit on highways. It is a drastic measure but the circumstances demand it.

There is a widely held view that a large number of mini-bus drivers have bought licences, are not qualified to hold licences and flagrantly violate the rules of the road. The issuing of new licences to mini-bus drivers should immediately come under rigorous inspection and new stringent rules laid down to ensure that drivers passing this test are fit to take on the responsibility of transporting members of the public. Renewal of licences should also be predicated on the application of this new regime.

Licensing of conductors should also be added to the traffic laws and a code of conduct established for both driver and conductor. Such a code should be prominently placed in the bus and violations of this can then be reported to a traffic complaints body for action.

The Home Affairs Ministry must lobby for much stiffer sentences and fines for those found guilty of traffic offences and the discretion of the bench to amend these should be circumscribed.

A profile of all public transportation drivers should be compiled and in cases where there have been multiple infractions of the traffic laws those drivers should be banned from holding a public transportation licence.

Ticketing for traffic offences must be rigidly observed and the traffic court should be expanded to facilitate the large number of cases.

Ultimately, the police require the support of the public and more and more people have to begin objecting to dangerous driving on the road be it in mini-buses or in their cars.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples