Applying brakes on carnage Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 27, 2002

THE warnings have come from the highest authority both in the Executive and Judicial branches of government: There must be "zero tolerance", said President Bharrat Jagdeo and Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, of traffic offenders.

The carnage on the nation's roads, in all three of the counties, has provoked national outrage. It is an outrage to which those in authority have paid attention and have been responding. Perhaps not as swiftly and effectively as expected, but positive responses there have been.

The Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, has announced that an omnibus type, or what he described as a "parent" Act governing a new set of traffic laws, will shortly be laid in Parliament. It is being fine-tuned in the Attorney General's Chambers.

He has pledged a "fast-track" approach to make the new traffic laws a reality. Introduction of seat belts for drivers and passengers, stiffer penalties, including for reckless driving and the revocation of licences, breath tests to bring drunk driving under control, and other measures, will be implemented in the interest of reclaiming our roads from those who so callously abused them.

The Police Force and the Traffic Division, in particular, are on notice for even more demanding service to the public. It is expected that they will be better equipped to carry out their functions, without fear or favour, and perhaps encouraged by appropriate incentives.

The police would also know that in accordance with the increasing demand for accountability and performance, as the President Jagdeo has been advocating for Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries and officials of state corporations, they would also be under more scrutiny against corrupt practices that contribute to violations of traffic laws and endanger the lives of innocent people.

Regional Problem
Slaughter on the roads has emerged as a region-wide problem with more alarming examples including the four major countries of CARICOM - Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados, as well as The Bahamas and St. Lucia.

The deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents often result from a combination of factors, including speeding and reckless driving, competition among minibus and maxi-taxi operators, defective vehicles, absence or non-use of seat belts, drunk driving, deficient policing by those of the traffic divisions, lack of proper verification of driver's licence and weaknesses in the implementation process of laws to adequately punish violators.

In most CARICOM states, introduction of seat belts, breath tests and stiffer penalties for traffic offenders are being vigorously pursued, the latest countries to go on the offensive being Barbados and The Bahamas.

Here in Guyana, passage of the new legislation to amend existing traffic laws can only generate a bi-partisan approach when the bill comes up for debate in Parliament. Once enacted, reasonable time would have to be given for implementation, particularly in relation to the use of seat belts.

Arrangements must begin to ensure availability of adequate supplies of the materials to equip private and commercial vehicles with seat belts, rather than the implementation date having to be postponed, as happened elsewhere.

The police, as well as the public at large would need to be properly oriented about the new laws and their implementation process.

It must be part of a new public education campaign involving the Guyana Police Force, Ministries of Home Affairs and Education, the associations representing taxi and other public vehicle operators, labour unions and business organisations. All are involved in this national effort.