Two persons tragically met their deaths on our roadways this weekend. The first was well known in media circles, the second better known in her community.
The response to these deaths will be yet another road campaign by the police during which many drivers are going to be harassed. Then it will all subside and everything will return to what it was, until the next series of shocking deaths.
The police have no strategy as to ensuring safety on the roads other than to punish drivers for minor infractions and maintaining a visible presence on the roads just after major accidents. These approaches, backed by hefty fines under the law, encourage extra- judicial settlement of fines, a practice that is well-known in Guyana and which has seriously tarnished the image of the Guyana Police Force.
The high fines that were introduced under the Hoyte administration were done following a spate of road accidents and were based on a flawed understanding of how measures to deter road accidents and promote road safety were to be implemented.
The thinking behind those draconian fines was inconsistent with the objectives they served because rather than deter motorists, they have become the basis for the corrupting dishonest traffic ranks.
A fine or penalty should not be punitive beyond what is necessary to achieve its objectives, and the objective of traffic fines were never to allow certain corrupt traffic policemen to ask motorists whether they were going “ lef or right”. They were intended to force motorists to be more responsible on our roadways, but this deterrent effect has not been achieved and therefore a new approach needs to be taken, if only to save the Guyana Police Force from being the object of public disfavor over the actions of those dishonest persons within the organization who utilize the powers they have under the law, backed by these hefty fines, to extort bribes from motorists for the ranks’ personal enrichment.
There has to be a rethink of road safety in the country and it must involve a number of dimensions. Firstly, the fines should be reduced so that they do not serve as an incentive for corruption. Imagine the plight of an ordinary driver who takes home a mere $10000 per week. The driver is stopped on the roadway and rather than face a criminal charge, the fine of which can be more than four times his weekly salary, he opts concede to the traffic rank who demands $5000 dollars.
This means that this poor man, barely surviving on his $10,000 per week has just lost half of his weekly income. What other option does he have then rather than give in to the bribe demand. How will he otherwise be able to feed his family. If he goes to court he faces sterner penalties and will have the added expense of hiring a lawyer. The traffic fines should therefore be reduced.
Secondly, the police should not be handing out tickets for offences which are not serious. A person’s rear light may have stopped working and that person may not know until it is discovered by a traffic rank. Instead of handing that person a ticket, why not urge the driver to go and get it fixed and then turn up to the station to show that the job has been completed. There has to be greater humanism in the system.
Do you know what a difference it will make to the public image of the police if when a speeding motorists is stopped, he is warned to slow down rather than be handed a hefty ticket or charge. The police will gain tremendous respect for the consideration shown.
The riot act should not read for every infraction, only for very serious ones. If this happens, the police will obtain greater respect.
Thirdly, traffic police should not be secreting themselves behind trees and turns so as to lure motorists into speeding and then pouncing on them. This is entrapment and is not consistent with best practices of police organizing. Instead of this objectionable method, the police should have a physical and highly visible presence on the roadways. This alone will encourage motorists to slow down. It will also demonstrate to the public that the police are interested in proactive methods to reduce lawlessness on our roadways rather than entrap motorists.
Finally, the accidents this past weekend demonstrate the need for social engineering when it comes to public roads. Major public road should not have businesses.
Yet it seems that the planning authorities continue to approve businesses along major public roads. This will invite serious problems because it means that persons will be found walking or riding on these road at all hours and this increases the risk of accidents.
Imagine you are driving at the designated speed limit of 80 km per hour and as you approach an area someone rides right into your path with a bicycle. How are you going to brake in time to avoid that. Thus even motorists face dangers on our roadways because when they hot someone, you can bet your bottom dollar that the driver has to spend the night or longer in the lockups and just to get bail he may be even asked to “ leave something” for somebody in the station.
There should be a ban on all new businesses on public roads and within twenty five years these roads should be free of all business.
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