Tuesday 22 October, 2019

LOOP Talks: Government losing money on our roads 

It's interesting how traffic-related headlines tend to rev up the Barbadian public.

Roadworks, new traffic laws and the tragedy of fatal accidents are just some of the related topics that spiral into discussions ranging from policy and politics, to which neighbour bought their licence. 

This was particularly evident with the recent move by the Barbados Licensing Authority and the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance, stipulating that persons should provide proof of address when seeking to renew their license or register a vehicle.

A request which was welcomed by the Royal Barbados Police Force, as police noted that they sometimes have challenges finding persons at the address they give to the Authority and are therefore left at square one with some investigations.

Nevertheless, that policy speedily came to the end of its road, as a boisterous outcry predominantly from social media provided the roadblocks for the Ministry to change their minds.

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And while police argued that they would continue to face challenges, many Barbadians were relieved at their victory. They however neglected the premise that the majority of citizens must commit to the structures which seek to protect and maintain discipline in a society if it is to flourish. 

And while it is understandable that citizens want to hit the brakes on all these dictates and controls as they have to endure the bad roads and potholes which cost them dearly, the government is also losing out on collecting much-needed funds along the highways and byways.

Unfortunately, even seemingly 'law-abiding citizens' feel comfortable taking risks and engaging in lawlessness, with the belief that they are not "doing anything too bad" - something reflected on our roads every day and a reality which signals a lack of respect for the laws of the land. 

What is needed is a system that encourages ordinary citizens to understand and uphold the policies of the island which are designed to breathe a culture of respect for authority. The hypocrisy of "law-abiding citizens" such as that evident on the highways and byways daily, must be brought into check. And while citizens play with the fire of risk-taking on our streets, they should be assigned the task of revving up state finances. 

Should government implement stiffer penalties to generate revenue from road infringements?

Yes. Motorists need to learn a lesson and money might just be the way to do it.
73%
No. Things are already hard in Barbados, adding this burden will only incense motorists.
9%
I'm not sure.
18%

Many Barbadians have become very complacent on our roads, with the Royal Barbados Police Force's traffic division expressing a range of concerns about reckless behaviour from both private and public service vehicles weekly. 

Such is the frequent refrain of Sergeant Seibert Johnson as he speaks with Loop News during daily Traffic Reports. He recently lamented that "we've had to tell motorists the same thing over and over again," when asked about concerns. 

The traffic cop believes that stiff penalties and new tools can provide Government with the much-needed finances to fuel the Barbadian economy and help to bring more order to the society as those fees discourage those who continue to break traffic laws:

"If we had clamps, when people park on sidewalks we could clamp you and you have to pay to get back your car - things of that nature we need to do."  

"We need to have changes, where persons have total disrespect for the law and order - persons park in front of people's driveway, park in sidewalks like if they do not have a care in the world, they are issued penalty tickets, they don't pay them and then we go and we are going after them."

"We plan to prosecute everybody if it means filling the court for the entire day with persons who commit these offences - if it means we are going to fill the court with all persons who haven't paid penalty tickets, that is what we are going to do. That is our drive from now on into Christmas - the government needs the revenue and we will go after those persons who haven't paid up."

It is not strange to see motorists waiting despite the traffic lights being green, avoiding the red light runners who never seem undaunted about taking a chance with the law; it is rare to hear Sergeant Johnson not mention illegal parking as a concern on mornings; darkly tinted vehicles that left police with no option than approaching with caution; these are concerns we have all heard about.

But why has government missed out on the potential millions of dollars in traffic fines that help drive the economies of some parts of the world? 

This is something Sergeant Johnson wants to see changed in Barbados:

"Traffic makes money in most countries. Traffic fines run New York City and it encourages many to be on their P's and Q's, so we really need something more like that here - something to deter persons from committing traffic offences."  

States such as Chicago and New York in the United States are renowned for collecting over 250 million dollars each from traffic-related fines. They use technology as an instrumental tool in proving some cases, as they strictly enforce traffic laws.

For the government to gain the potential bounty from ticketing, laws must be enforced. It cannot be the case as with the recently implemented policy banning cell phone use while driving, where persons ease back into their bad habits after a few weeks of upholding the rules - traffic infringements never stop and the police must ensure they appropriately prosecute persons for them. 

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Sergeant Johnson reinforced his point that they are cracking down in areas that they have authority to however, citing illegal parking:

"Daily we warn persons not to park on sidewalks, but decide that they are ignoring us. And then they curse the police when they get tickets. We are going to find out now who paid and who has not and they will be heading to court."  

And what about the cameras? They can be seen at traffic lights across the island, ready to catch brazen motorists in the act of running traffic lights, eating while driving, applying makeup and a range of tasks that may make one wonder if the concept of multitasking has gone to an extreme. But why don't we see persons reporting to the court after being snapped committing these offences? Serious efforts need to be made to ensure these devices are working and play an active role in revving up government's finances or deterring persons from risky acts whether driving, riding or walking around these cameras.

Whatever the cause, the current state of negligence on the roads must be stopped and the government should ensure they afford such persons with the opportunity to help Barbados in its economic recovery.  

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