Wed | Apr 26, 2017

Traffic law proposals misguided

Published:Tuesday | June 16, 2015 | 6:00 AMDonald J. Duff, Contributor

Proposals to update our traffic laws are confusing and need improvement. The letter ('Proposed traffic law changes confusing') by Patrick D. Robinson, published in The Gleaner of June 13, 2015, is revealing. He makes the valid observation that many of the proposed offences for the updated traffic laws are duplications or are too vague.

The road-safety bureaucrats should do better. They should provide our parliamentarians with better edited recommendations and bolder solutions to make our roads safer. High on the list should be how best to improve policing. Increasing traffic breaches without increasing effective enforcement is poor planning and an empty exercise.

The reasons for proposing huge increases in traffic fines, by approximately 300 per cent, should be publicised. If getting road users' attention is the goal, a better way is to catch the wrong doers. It's a safe bet now that those who seriously break the traffic laws will not be caught before causing an accident. Disrespectful and impatient drivers continue to weave in and out of traffic with little risk of being apprehended.

Adding more breaches will make traffic policing even more challenging. Higher traffic fines will increase income to the police and to the Government, but we should not expect that road safety will be improved after the initial shock. There is much more to improving road safety than imposing draconian fines on motorists.

The police write many speeding tickets now for relatively safe breaches, considered by many to be motivated for their own personal advancement. This was deplored by a senior police officer publicly, as reported in The Gleaner several years ago, but the practice continues.

The ineffectiveness of this approach is evident from the fact that the high number of road fatalities continues unchanged. Recent road crashes and fatalities have reinforced my view that speed limits have little influence on the behaviour of dangerous and reckless drivers who cause most road crashes. The authorities should reflect on how the traffic regulations can be changed so that more road users will respect them voluntarily.

The number of police traffic personnel is limited, and there may never be enough to adequately enforce the present regulations as currently enforced. Revised regulations should focus the police on the life-threatening breaches and to improve enforcement to teach our undisciplined road users to change their ways.

 

PLEA FOR RATIONALITY

As the traffic authorities tend to ignore recommendations in letters, I hope that our parliamentarians will insist on receiving more rational and evidence-based recommendations. The success of other countries in reducing road fatalities could be instructive. For example, Sweden, Iraq and Denmark, to name a few, have improved their road infrastructure over many years and, along with strict enforcement, have shown remarkable success in reducing road fatalities.

While Jamaica's limited finances could delay needed road infrastructural improvements, there can be no good excuse to delay improving our traffic regulations to encourage more drivers to adhere to the laws voluntarily. It can be done. We need bolder proposals and leaders who are not afraid to consider new methods.

Many of our roads have been assigned speed limits that are considered ridiculous, even by experienced country justices of the peace. These limits cause many normally law-abiding persons to infringe the regulations and encourage disrespect for the law.

I hope that our parliamentarians will request an analysis of our speed limits by experienced traffic engineers, such as how the 85 percentile rule is applied worldwide. That is, the speed at which 85 per cent of the vehicles travel safely on each road. Where this rule has been used, some speed limits have been increased in appropriate locations ,with subsequent decreases in road accidents as a result. Higher limits could also enable the police to focus their attention on the more serious law breakers, even to making arrests on the spot.

I pray that our parliamentarians will provide careful and thoughtful consideration in finalising the new traffic laws. We deserve better than the proposals submitted so far.

- Donald J. Duff is a retired engineer and HRD consultant. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and duff@flowja.com.