Sat | Apr 21, 2018

Cedric Stephens | Road traffic bill has more miles to cover

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this April 24, 2017, file photo, a motorcyclist winds his way through Kingston traffic. The road traffic bill has passed in the Lower House but must also be passed in the Senate and signed by the governor general before it can become law.

The Road Traffic Act 2018, the RTA - which is still a bill - continues its journey to the statute books.

The Lower House of Parliament recently approved the proposed legislation. It now moves to the Senate. After it gets approved there, it will be sent to the governor general. He must sign it for it to become law.

When that happens, the current 80-year-old law will be invalid, and the new law will replace it. There were bursts of chatter about the new RTA on social media after the House of Representatives passed it.

Many persons in the discussions seemed unaware of the lawmaking process. They believe that the 2018 law is now in force.

There were two main points about the RTA in the social media chats and in this newspaper. One was that the proposed fines for violations would lead to increased income for corrupt members of the police force. 'Expect more corruption' was the headline of a February 12 Jamaica Observer article, but not a word about whether the law would change the behaviour of motorists and reduce the carnage on the roads.

Kelly McIntosh, an executive at one of the country's leading companies, a former teacher and a guest columnist for this newspaper, wrote a piece that was informed by research, more thoughtful and constructive - 'New traffic law not enough'.

Notably absent from these public discussions were comments from the insurance industry. In 2016, it paid claims totalling $56.1 billion. Some were the result of traffic accidents. The Insurance Association of Jamaica's website proclaims: "IAJ occasionally becomes involved with matters that affect the wider society outside of providing coverage for the insurance-buying public." Is behaviour of motorists not important for insurers to step outside their comfort zones? It is so much easier to raise premiums to recover claims costs from consumers.

The 2016-2017 attempts by this column to help shape the discussions about the RTA failed. The House lawmakers, in their wisdom, dismissed the ideas that I shared about the section of the bill dealing with cell phones and other electronic devices. The conversations have changed as the law moves inexorably towards its journey's end. This article will also alter course. It will enter the social media discussions. It will also seek to add to the ideas that were shared by Ms McIntosh.

The conclusion in the Jamaica Observer article, though popular, is doubtful. It is based on what is commonly, but mistakenly, called a vox populi survey. This Latin phrase means voice of the people. Surveys of this type are often inaccurate if not done properly. This one was conducted posing the same question to several persons, who, it is assumed, were randomly selected.

The conclusion that police officers would be more prone to use the increased fines that are to be imposed under the RTA to corruptly collect money from motorists was expressed as a factual statement instead of as the belief of the persons who participated in the survey.

Questions about the RTA and police corruption were posed to seven persons. Survey practitioners will agree that this sample size is not representative of the population.

Analysis of the responses that were recorded in the article indicates that three persons (43 per cent of the group), believed that the new RTA would lead to more corruption. Two persons (29 per cent) felt that it would not. One person had no opinion (14 per cent), and another (14 per cent) believed that the proposed fines were too high.

Any first-year student studying basic research methods at our tertiary institutions would know that 'there are lies, damned lies, and statistics'.

 

FIXING THE ROUTE CAUSES

 

Ms McIntosh's argument was more persuasive.

"The legislation, by itself, is never going to be enough to fix the problem ... understanding the drivers of human behaviour in our particular social context and addressing these in ways aimed at fixing root causes," she wrote, are more likely to change the outcome - fewer traffic accidents, fewer persons killed and injured and a reduction in the social and economic costs to the society.

Stephen Pinker is the Harvard College professor of psychology at Harvard University. He is the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books and is among Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. His 802-page, 2011 book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined - there is one reference to Jamaica on page 89 - received critical acclaim.

Professor Pinker agrees with Ms McIntosh's line of reasoning. Finding solutions to the 'traffic problem' - as indeed to the much bigger problem of violent crimes - is not the sole responsibility of the police as many persons seem to be suggesting. Adherence to rule of law, a "bigger and smarter police force", law breakers who face "a constant chance of being detected and punished, punishments that do not appear like misfortunes coming out of the blue rather ... predictable consequences of proscribed behaviour," a justice system that works swiftly and efficiently, and the involvement of community leaders, including politicians, who work cooperatively can help create a climate "where more people choose to obey the rules than break them".

One local politician famously signalled the prevailing social norm in these words: "Those who play by the rules are the ones that get shafted!" Enacting the new law is but one part of a long process of changing the behaviour of motorists.

Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the global investment firm BlackRock, says: "Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society".

It is still not too late for insurers to get on board the RTA train.

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