Help us from arrogant road users
January 30, 2007
Vehicular homicide, unless premeditated, rarely carries a lengthy jail term. In fact, the way we treat this in the court is not dissimilar from some misdemeanours, and indeed that is what it is.
Although lives are often lost, the charge is bailable — unlike murder, treason, and more recently kidnapping. There have been cases where some of the victims have gone to the High Court to even protest the extent of bail.
On one occasion, a man killed a pastor on the East Coast Demerara Highway and drove away. It was a clear case of hit-and-run, and the courts dealt with it in keeping with the seriousness it deserved. To compound the issue, the driver of the car was an overseas-based Guyanese who had every reason to flee.
The High Court ruled that the bail was exorbitant and reduced it to a mere pittance, as far as the overseas-based Guyanese was concerned, especially given the exchange rate. And it came as no surprise that the man jumped bail, never to return to this country. The relatives of the dead man have been left without any form of compensation. They cannot sue the state, although in our view they should because, to some extent, it was the state that permitted the man to flee.
Then there was the case of two young men who raced down Vlissengen Road and killed two men. They, too, got off scot-free. In the first instance, the Director of Public Prosecutions was in the High Court even before the defence counsel, who had made a bail application. Then, when the then Chief Justice granted bail, it was all but over.
Scarcely a month goes by without some driver doing something that leads to the death of a road user. There was the driver who drove over a man, dragging him for a considerable distance. When he did stop, he simply pulled the battered body from under his car and drove away.
The Police found him, days later, in another county. He claimed that he thought that he had hit a dog. But he had to know otherwise when he extracted the body from under his car. He continues to walk free, and he is probably driving again.
These are not isolated cases, and there is need for drastic changes to the traffic laws. In other countries, people are afraid to even jump a traffic light, or to park illegally. The penalty is such that the culprit is made to suffer in more ways than one. Some repeat offenders are banned from driving for life, and some even go to jail.
The worst penalty is reserved for drunk drivers. The jail beckons, and sometimes the culprit is required to give up his weekends, sometimes for as long as three years. The state allows the individual to work and to support his family, but to jail he must go.
In Guyana there is no such penalty, and drivers continue to run amok. The driver with the most money is likely to cheat the course of justice. He could afford the best lawyer, and he may also have the sympathetic ear of the magistrate.
Over the weekend, to be exact, on Sunday, there was a horrific crash on the East Bank Demerara Public Road . A woman died, and it had nothing to do with her use of the road. She was in a vehicle heading home with her son-in-law, her daughter, and her grand children. Someone may be observing all the rules governing road safety but still end up being a victim, and that is just what happened. One driver, who had a day of fun and alcohol, just could not be bothered with the basics of road safety. One simply does not overtake on a turn, but this driver either did not know this or simply could not care, because of the lax traffic laws. He crashed head-on with the vehicle in which this woman was. She died, but he is still alive.
Others in both vehicles sustained injuries and are, at this moment, in pain. When all is said and done, the driver is going to be alive to tell the tale, while the other family would always remember the pain and the loss.
The courts may find him guilty, and may even sentence him to a small jail term. People rarely sue, because it could be years before they get any justice. Files disappear, and sometimes even with the best intention, the courts cannot proceed because of the backlog that keeps growing.
Computerisation may help keep some dangerous road users at bay, but then again, the system is not yet computerised, so who knows? This very driver may be back on the road to wreak havoc again.