Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Garth Rattray | Register and regulate windshield washers

Published:Monday | August 22, 2016 | 8:01 AM
Windshield washers swarm vehicles at Three Miles in St Andrew.

I recently had an unpleasant experience with a gruff and menacing windshield washer at Three Miles. His being refused unsolicited access to clean my windshield made him angry and pungently churlish.

My windshield had been thoroughly cleaned prior to approaching that traffic light. So when a group of windshield washers tried to clean it, I rolled my window down and very calmly explained that it had just been cleaned and that they must ask me before doing that and that I only had my toll money on me.

They moved on, but one tarried and leaned forward to angrily admonish me: "We juss waan buy some flowah caaz we hungry. Ah so unnu Subaru drivah stay. Unna gwaan like unna bettah dan everyone else." That sort of confrontational attitude is troubling. His sense of entitlement was astonishing.

And then I read 'Scared stiff by violent windscreen wiper' in a letter to the editor published in The Gleaner. The writer had a similar experience at that same traffic light, but it ended with a violent reaction from the windshield wiper. It was obvious to me that the authorities would once again begin expelling them from the traffic lights. It, therefore, came as no surprise to see The Gleaner of August 17, 2016 reporting that the police had began to removed young men who wipe windscreens.

Many drivers plan their routes to circumvent some major traffic lights. Frankly, I'm tired of repelling aggressive, intrusive, and insistent windshield washers. Even if the windshield is spotless, some quickly approach, and without prior permission, spew some sort of watery concoction on the glass and then proceed to squeegee it off. Nothing deters most denizens of the streets. They are totally blind to screwed-up faces and arms frantically waving them off. Their mission is to extract money from every driver that they target.

Their approach varies widely from attempts of befriending drivers, gentle persuasion and sad, pitiful looks to aggressive demands for unsolicited 'service'. I make it a habit to explain that I do not, always carry small change on me, so they must ask me before washing the glass.

I used to selectively assist two or three of them with cell phones and efforts at finding them gainful employment; however, their illiteracy, lack of marketable skills, and even criminal records stymied my efforts.

Female drivers bear the brunt of window washers' bad behaviour. Women unwise enough to leave windows down tend to get robbed. One will distract the female while his partner in crime purloins whatever he can from the other open window. Some window washers approach women with outright aggression. I've seen and heard obscene gestures and words hurled at women who do not submit to their demands for money.

It's not right that drivers are harassed. The levels of aggression and violence are rising steadily in society, and there is always the reasonable fear that windshield washers will transition from supplicant or mendicant to violent criminal at any time.

I know of women who have had their windows and windshields knocked on so hard that they almost break. Some have had their cars scratched in retaliation for not paying for unsolicited windshield washing, and others have had their windshields covered with dirty soapy water and wipers left up by angry windshield washers.

No doubt, windscreen washers are working out of necessity to earn a living. I recall one who got into trouble with the law and told the judge that he could not afford to go to jail because he had children to feed. Intermittent and transient police crusades are ineffective in the long run. I believe that every single windshield washer should be officially registered and documented (name, date of birth, residence, picture, and an identification number). That way, they can be regulated (underage children would be prohibited), easily tracked, monitored, and reported if they misbehaved.

We need to start somewhere with discipline in our society. This is as good a place as any.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.