Mon | Jan 17, 2022

Cedric Stephens | Putting a damper on road risk

Published:Sunday | August 8, 2021 | 12:05 AM

Motorists traversing the North-South Highway that links St Catherine to St Ann.
Motorists traversing the North-South Highway that links St Catherine to St Ann.
Motorists traversing Queens Highway in St Ann.
Motorists traversing Queens Highway in St Ann.
A policeman walks by a Toyota Hiace minibus that was involved in a crash on Highway 2000 in April 2021.
A policeman walks by a Toyota Hiace minibus that was involved in a crash on Highway 2000 in April 2021.

The prime minister issued instructions that the new Road Traffic Act should be implemented “no later than December this year,” as reported by The Daily Observer on July 9. This is, ostensibly, because road fatalities “have shot past 240”.

Gun shootings are also associated with deaths. The use of a violence-free verb, not linked to deaths, would have been more appropriate given the emphasis that is being placed on reducing the many risks on our roads and the saving of lives.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is the chairman of the National Road Safety Council, NRSC, which is tasked with undertaking activities to reduce the number of accidents and lowering the human and economic costs of the carnage that is occurring every 18 hours.

All things being equal, it seems reasonable to assume that another 240 to 260 persons are likely to be killed in motor vehicle accidents by the end of this year. I feel sure that if the PM believed that by advancing the implementation of the new Road Traffic Act from December to September, 120-130 lives could be saved, he would have done so. The fact that he has not done this suggests that other factors are at play. My theory is that Mr Holness knows that there is limited room to speed up the many processes of government that must work in tandem to set up the new Road Traffic Act, the RTA.

Several things are now taking place, which, when viewed together and in the context of other seemingly minor changes, provide clues that explain why the PM may have set a December RTA deadline. The new act is a complex piece of legislation. One of its many goals is to use ‘sticks’ or a series of penalties or fines to change the way motorists use the public roads. Another aim is to give the police more tools to enforce the law. I have reliable information that some members of the police force believe that some of the fines that are imposed under the existing law are too low.

The comments that follow are based on my private research of documents in the public domain that support my theory.

New law enforcement lab

COVID-19 and the regulations imposed under the Disaster Risk Management Act, DRMA, have created a laboratory for the law-enforcement authorities to carry out tests to improve their capacity to ensure compliance with the act and to prevent the spread of the virus.

The DRMA was drafted to protect society. Hauling lawbreakers – including pastors – who violate the COVID-19 rules, is meant to send a message that violations of the protocols will not be tolerated and that changes in the individual behaviour of citizens are required for public safety. The social experiment is still ongoing. The quick taking of two persons into custody by the police for allegedly ‘dissing’ the PM on social media is meant to serve as an example that the police are improving their effectiveness.

I believe that the lessons being learned from the DRMA experiment will serve as a dress rehearsal for ensuring compliance when the RTA comes into effect.

The government has quietly been giving clear, isolated, and unmistakable signals that high-tech equipment, among other measures, are being deployed to improve the operating effectiveness of the law-enforcement authorities. Some of these tools, I suspect, are expected to come into play when the new RTA comes into force. For example, three years ago, according to JIS, at the opening of the upgraded Barbican Road in Kingston, the prime minister let the ‘puss out of the bag’.

“The Barbican and other upgraded roads have been designed with law enforcement in mind. We have built into them technology. These areas will be monitored with the latest sensors and cameras. We are not building roads to make it easier for criminals to do what they do. These roads are built to make it harder for criminals,” he said. “The technology will enable the police to identify licence plates, identify individuals facially, and track persons through road crossings.”

The Observer recently published a photo showing Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang inspecting a tablet computer that was installed in a police service vehicle at the commissioner’s office on Old Hope Road. I saw a similar vehicle on the grounds of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James during the last quarter of 2020. These computer devices, among other things, retrieve information about driver’s licences and the insurance status of vehicles by interrogating the databases remotely.

Finally, I know about one recent case where a motorist was stopped while he was speeding. After checking his driver’s licence using high-tech tools, the police learned within minutes that he was a repeat offender with many unpaid traffic tickets.

Additional signs

The JIS news agency reports that the Government has invested more than $61 billion to improve the capacity and capability of the country’s security architecture during the fiscal years 2016-17 to 2020-21.

Nearly 50 pick-up trucks and 73 motorbikes were recently added to the JCF fleet of vehicles. The police appear to have become more visible, from my observations in the Kingston 6, 7, and 8 areas. It is fairly common to see them carrying out stops and issuing traffic tickets.

A project was recently undertaken to apply yellow paint along the sidewalks of some of the main roadways. I believe that this was not a make-work random exercise. I have noticed that most police vehicles do not ignore the message conveyed by the yellow paint on the sidewalks.

If my theory is correct, motorists should start to prepare to comply with the new RTA. For example, persons who have grown accustomed to using their cell phones while driving should study the provisions that apply to the use of these devices. Employers who provide employees with cell phones for business use should check with their attorneys and insurance advisers whether the RTA will create new areas of risk.

Finally, it would be a great 59th birthday gift to the country if motor insurers started working with the authorities in a sustained programme to help change the behaviours of motorists and pedestrians in anticipation of the new RTA.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: