Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Everybody have di right of way!

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

A few years ago, a friend of mine was knocked off his bicycle by the driver of car who came out of a side street on to the main road without stopping. Fortunately, it wasn't a major intersection. And the driver kindly waited to see what had happened to his victim. When my friend got up, he confronted the driver telling him he should have stopped to let him pass since the vehicle on the main road has the right of way.

Without apology, the driver authoritatively declared, "Everybody have di right of way". My friend was so grateful to be alive he didn't even bother to argue with the driver, who seemed to think that right of way meant the right to be on the road. Even so, there are rules that regulate the use of the road. And taking turns in an orderly fashion is one of them.

Once, I was driving down a main road and a driver, coming in the opposite direction, tried to make a right turn in front of me. I refused to let him turn. He brazenly asked, "Through yu have di right a way mek yu a gwaan so?" Mi just kiss mi teeth. At least he knew what right of way meant, even if he was prepared to take it away.

On another occasion, when I refused to let a male driver come out of a side street and bore ahead of me on to the main road, he shouted out "bxtty man!" Mi nearly dead wid laugh. This term of intended abuse seemed entirely inappropriate. I would have thought that, in homophobic Jamaica, a man who refused to let another man forcibly take away his rights would be admired, not abused. But road rage knows no logic.




A few years ago, I was told by a young policeman that, at a roundabout, "Nobody don't have di right of way." This was at the very busy roundabout at the Irvine Hall entrance to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. And, unfortunately, there is no 'Yield' sign at the roundabout. I told the policeman that the driver in the roundabout has the right of way. The driver entering the roundabout should yield.

The policeman insisted that he was right and actually said that, at a roundabout, you should just position yourself and go through. Not his exact words but that was the spirit of it. I asked him to check with his superiors and let me know what they said the next time I met him. Two days later, I ran into him again at the same intersection. He gleefully told me he was right. Nobody has the right of way at a roundabout.

I didn't bother to argue with him this time. I just gave up in despair. If this was an officer of the law, what about all those lawless drivers on the road? Could they be right? I suppose if everybody has the right of way, nobody actually has it. The two 'rights' cancel each other. Or, even worse, both wrongs are equally right on Jamaican roads.

I decided to read the Road Traffic Act to see if the policeman was right. It turned out to be 165 pages long and, as far as I could tell, the document posted online did not have a 'search' feature. I skimmed it as far as page 65 and gave up. I hadn't found any reference to right of way up to that point. So I still don't know if the policeman was right, according to the law. But it seems highly unlikely. The requirement to yield implies right of way.




What I did find is that the language of the Road Traffic Act is not straightforward. It is very roundabout. Everybody has the right to understand the law. And the lawmakers are not making it easy. Take, for instance, the opening lines of the act:

"PART I . Preliminary

1. This Act may be cited as the Road Traffic Act

2. In this Act

'area' means the area from time to time prescribed as a traffic, or as a licensing area, and the expressions 'traffic area' and 'licensing area' shall be construed accordingly;"

First of all, you can't use 'area' to explain the meaning of 'area'. And why 'construed'? Why not, simply, 'understood'? Our lawmakers don't seem to understand how easy it is to misconstrue meaning, especially in a society like ours. A lot of people are not literate in English. And there are nuff illiterate drivers outa road. They cannot read road signs.

One of the most ridiculous is 'Dual carriageway ahead'. Even literate drivers may not realise that this means two-way traffic. The Government really should face facts and translate the road code into plain English. And also provide an oral version in Jamaican! If we want to ensure that all road users know their rights, we have to stop pretending that everyone understands the rules. It's too easy to be dead right.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to and