Police take aim at illegal motorcycles
High fatality rate puts bikes on radar as new Road Traffic Act takes effect
With motorcyclists being the leading category of fatalities among the nearly 500 deaths on the nation’s roads last year, the police are gearing up for an islandwide clampdown on illegal motorcycles as the new Road Traffic Regulations 2022 take effect this week.
Last year, motorcyclists accounted for roughly 29 per cent of road users killed, with 142 of the 488 fatalities, according to preliminary figures from the Road Safety Unity in the Ministry of Transport. This, however, was a 14 per cent decline in fatalities linked to motorcycles compared with 2021 data.
“Motorcyclists are a major concern, having been the highest category of road users that have been killed on our roads, and sad to say, many of the crashes are due to human error,” Assistant Commissioner of Police Gary McKenzie, head of the police’s Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB), noted last week.
“Many of them who ride motorcycles do so without helmets, with the cycle defective due to modification, or speed excessively. There are concerns, but we have plans in place to deal with these concerns,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
McKenzie is confident that the new Road Traffic Act, which was passed in the Houses of Parliament in 2018, and the regulations finalised last year, will enable the police to exercise greater authority over the operation of motorcycles on the island’s roadways.
Under the law, an applicant must do a road test to be granted a provisional driver’s licence for a motorcycle. Additionally, the licensee cannot carry a pillion and must have someone with a motorcycle driver’s licence accompanying them within six metres while on the roadway.
“More importantly, we aim to take [aim at] all the motorcycles that are not properly accounted for in our Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) registry, because some of these motorcycles did not come into the island legally, and for others, when they are licensed once, there is the tendency not to renew their licence,” said the PSTEB head.
The police are also taking a serious look at the forfeiture of illegal motorcycles, where once a driver is placed before the courts and convicted, an application will be made to the Crown for the vehicle to be forfeited.
ILLEGAL BIKE TAXIS
The situation is rather complex for residents of several communities in Hanover and Westmoreland, where a motorcycle is the only means of transportation, which has created an unregulated bike taxi system for more than 50 years.
According to one bike taxi operator, who earns a living transporting passengers from Orange Bay in Hanover to communities like Cave, Santoy, Marsh Town, and Logwood, he and his colleagues have made attempts to legalise their service, but to no avail.
“We want to be legal, but Transport Authority not budging,” the operator told The Sunday Gleaner. “Yet nothing is in place to take the people; only bikes.”
It is a similar cry for bike taxi operators in Westmoreland, the deadliest parish for motorcyclists.
“Even if there was a taxi route, not all car drivers are willing to go where a bike will go,” noted Beverly Garnett, a hotel worker in Negril. “The bike taxis take my children to school and I can rely on them to take me to catch the staff bus. Our only problem is when rain falls.”
When contacted, Merdina Callum, acting communications manager at the Transport Authority, said there was no such thing as a bike taxi, seemingly dismissing the realities being faced by some rural communities.
She later advised that she would not be in a position to respond to further Sunday Gleaner queries regarding the underserved communities in time for publication.
While very few of the accidents involve motorcycles that are operated as taxis, ACP McKenzie also said that bike taxis are illegal.
“There are those who modify the motorcycles to carry more than the prescribed [number of people], without considering the danger for themselves and other users of the road, but we will continue to ensure that our roads are safe for all,” the PSTEB boss warned.
WEARING SAFETY GEAR SEEN AS EFFEMINATE
The 150CC is the top-selling motorcycle in the most westerly parishes at an average cost of $175,000. But while it has been a financially rewarding investment for Westmoreland-based auto dealer Sebastian Troupe, he is hoping that more strident laws will stem the high rate of fatalities and the blatant disregard for the road code while not choking his business.
“The road deaths, especially involving bikes, are at a frightening level, and while I am concerned, I am in the business of selling bikes,” said Troupe, who has been involved in auto sales for more than 20 years. “The Government must put the necessary laws in place to reduce the craziness on our roads, but whatever is done should not be affecting my bottom line.”
Unlike motor vehicle purchases, where the relevant documents must be presented before the seller can release the unit, a customer seeking a motorcycle is only required to show proof of age.
Troupe said that while people are willing to buy bikes, most have no interest in helmets.
“I include a helmet with the purchase of a motorcycle, but many of these guys prefer a discount than a helmet,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
“Operating a motorcycle requires a different combination of physical and mental skills than those used in driving four-wheel vehicles, but these youngsters won’t listen,” he further said. “According to them, it is effeminate to wear safety gear, and the police have been doing as much as the law allows and with very limited resources.”
Westmoreland was the island’s deadliest parish for road users in 2022, despite a slight reduction from 2021.
In 2021, the parish recorded 53 fatal collisions and 56 deaths, with 31 of the crashes including motorcycles. Fifty people died from the 42 accidents recorded last year, 24 of which were motorcyclists.
“The traffic enforcement team have been engaging these motorcyclists, especially those located in Negril, and we will continue the relentless drive to ensure the safety of all road users,” said Senior Superintendent of Police Wayne Josephs, the commander for the Westmoreland Police Division.