How am I? I’m fined!
The proposed increases in the fines under the Road Traffic Act don't bother me at all. I don't plan to be getting any. Plus, in keeping with the devaluation of the dollar, there had to be an updating of the ticketing regime. But most of all, what I witness and experience every morning just driving down Hope Road has caused me to develop extremely illiberal and authoritarian views about how traffic ought to be handled.
In fact, it dawned on me that perhaps ALL of Jamaica's problems are fixable if we can simply get motorists to obey the instruction at Kingsway (right across from Andrews Memorial Hospital) that no right turns are permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Every morning there's some room-temperature IQ miscreant causing a roadblock.
Where's all the enthusiasm for Lee Kuan Yew's methods, I wonder, when we need it? He started the transformation by tidying up the traffic craziness in Singapore.
Anyway, so I enthusiastically consulted the Gleaner article to see what fine this particular infraction would attract if, by some miracle, one of these decades the police might bother to enforce the law. According to the Gleaner report, it could be "S 15 Driving on to one road from another and causing traffic obstruction - $10,000". But it could also be "S 16 Driving motor vehicle in violation of the rules of the road by: (e) crossing or turning so as to obstruct traffic - $9,000", or "(f) driving on to a road from another in a manner causing obstruction - $9,000".
So which is it? $9,000 or $10,000? Parliament may want to clarify.
My own recommendation, after careful consideration and broad consultation, is that this specific offence should attract the death penalty.
That said, I think there has to be a better way to keep the fines updated. Perhaps an empowered commission of some sort could review the thousands of fines littered all across the law books and make recommendations for their periodic adjustment, instead of this once-in-a-while and every-now-and-again 1,000 per cent increase.
For instance, the DPP has revealed that even if Shernet Haughton, former mayor of Lucea, were to be found guilty of distributing a contract over half a million dollars, she would have been subject to a fine of $1,000. Now I'm not saying $1,000 isn't some money. But even though it can get you a surprisingly large supply of fish back, it's not exactly a disincentive.
Or look at what happened with Sizzla the other day, before he took off to live with Mr Mugabe in Africa (or is this why he made the move?). He had seasoned his performance at a police-sponsored event with lots of cussing the police. For his pains, he was charged $1,000. One thousand dollars!? I'm sure Sizzla won't ever be caught using expletives again!
One does have to question the judgement of the police commanders who took the decision to invite Sizzla as their main act. You need only listen to his vast catalogue for a moment or two and you will appreciate that he's a fyah-man with a great facility with the language. What's more, he's unconcerned with the views of others. Even his love songs routinely contain warnings that his girl must desist from listening to what anyone else has to say.
So cursing is a ticketable offence, except in St Thomas, where it might get you shot. Remember Kayann Lamont? Anyhow, the story is that back in the day, there were generally law-abiding men who, compelled by unfortunate circumstances to dip into the catalogue, would walk with pounds and shillings so as to pop off and tell a man where to hop off. I find that irresistibly hilarious, but also how things probably ought to be. Free to talk - and free to pay the consequences of it.
doing the math
By the way, I'm not saying I don't have complaints with the traffic regime. I certainly do. For instance, there are all these zones all over the island, with no signage to warn drivers that they need to slow to a crawl, where cops just sit and write ticket after ticket. It's very annoying.
And I'm not in support of making the use of mobile phones while driving illegal. Talking about logistics hubs, it's logistically impossible nowadays for a young man to successfully conclude a non-binding MOU with any young lady without making phone calls from the car. People are busy!
Another issue! I'm not saying this could or couldn't happen, but if I'm speeding past a policeman cussin' two claat on mi phone wid a 2oz spliff in mi jaw corner while transporting mi 'P.J. Patterson Highway' sign in the back of mi unlicensed vehicle, what's the price for that? Let's work it out.
According to The Gleaner: "S 3 Driving a motor vehicle without it being licensed in the prescribed manner - $10,000". "S 14 Exceeding the speed limit by: (c) 50 km/h or more - $15,000". "S 42 Use of electronic communication device while driving - $10,000". Two ounces from Minister Golding: $500. The innumerable claats: $1,000. So far, that's a grand total of $36,500 for the experience of a lifetime. Oh! Highway 2000 'PJ' sign? Priceless.
That said, you have to know when and where to attempt these things because, y'know, context is so important. For whereas in some places the cops might give chase, then write you a ticket, apparently in west Kingston, there's a 50% chance you would just get shot in the back.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.