Paula Fletcher | Give traffic watchdogs more teeth
Many pertinent issues were raised by Ronnie Thwaites in his article 'Missing the point', published on May 29, 2017.
It is agreed that far too many people die on our roads annually. This is only part of the picture, as many more persons are injured than die on our roads. The cost of crashes to society is huge. Hospital costs alone are estimated to be $2 billion annually. This is counterproductive to our national plan to grow GDP by three to five per cent. Such projected growth would be wiped out by the cost of crashes.
It's true, therefore, that investment in road safety is as important as any IMF programme! This is why road safety is a sustainable development issue, hence its inclusion in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015).
With crashes, we spend on the expense side, but it would be more progressive if such spending were programmed as an investment, undergirded by a policy and development framework. Alas, although there is an official National Road Safety Policy (2004) which states that a dedicated fund should be set up in support of the activities to be undertaken, this was never done. This policy is multisectoral and consensus driven.
The various ministries (Transport, Health, Security, Justice, Education), therefore, undertake road-safety promotion within their respective budgets. This means that for some issues, priorities can shift within respective ministries when balanced with other non-road-safety competing issues. Road-safety promotion work has to be better funded to have a more targeted approach to dealing with the implementation of activities that promote road safety.
There is no denying that the buying of driver's licences remains a problem. It should be noted, too, that there are those who undergo the requisite training who will also buy their licence to save time. They feel the ITA road test is too subjective and that persons are failed on a whim and have to do the test up to three times before passing. As this is time-consuming, they buy their licence instead.
One of the factors limiting the Island Traffic Authority (ITA), a member organisation of the NRSC, in modernising and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its operation is funding. The ITA is a cash cow for the Consolidated Fund. It generates $3.5 billion to this fund from fees for motor vehicle licences and driver's licences. Additionally, the fund receives a direct contribution from the ITA of $2.5b, most of which represents fees for certificates of fitness. In spite of this handsome level of revenue generation, the ITA is allocated a budget of $180m (net of about $70m received in fees for services), which represents approximately 7% of direct contributions to the fund.
This level of funding of the ITA is woefully insufficient and prevents its investment in operational improvements, including those to combat the illegal preparation of driver's licences. Anti-fraud initiatives require the use of technology, and that does not come cheap. For some time now, the ITA has wanted to upgrade the system for issuing driver's licences to allow for the use of a more secure licence document that would include electronic and other security features that are expensive to duplicate fraudulently.
Security improvements for the driver's licence are just one of several initiatives that the ITA would like to implement to be able to improve business processes and reduce fraud.
There is also the matter of investment required by the ITA to computerise Road Code tests and test results, which would then easily enable this test to be administered in high schools, thereby initiating the preparation of young minds for the complex world of driving. The current ITA cannot undertake this activity with its current funding.
The Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ) is a member organisation of the NRSC and advocates for culture change as it works to support the mandate of the NRSC in doing so. Currently, the IAJ is in the process of establishing an Insurance Vehicle Information System that will enable Tax Administration Jamaica and the police to access the vehicle insurance database. They are now testing the system, which will reduce the preparation of bogus licences and enable the police to know which cars are insured.
Approximately 330,000 cars are reflected as being insured in the system. The IAJ estimates that about 25 per cent are uninsured. It is difficult to ascertain how many cars are on our roads, as the motor vehicle register is outdated and no doubt includes cars no longer in use. The ITA indicates that approximately 400,000 pass through its system for fitness certification.
Another initiative of the IAJ is a proposal to grant access to the traffic ticketing database, which would provide information to insurance underwriters as to persons with unpaid tickets and general ticket information as to the breaches of the Road Traffic Act being committed by their insured. This would help insurance companies to determine who to charge increased premiums, or who to refuse insurance. This would also discourage insurance company-hopping of perpetual road traffic offenders, as the database will be accessible to all companies. This proposal is awaiting the granting of the required access by the Ministry of Security. Lives are often lost during bureaucratic delays.
On the matter of the Road Traffic Bill, the legislation period to birth a new act has been much too long - more than a decade in the making. The NRSC initiated the review of the current act and has been an integral part of the process for its preparation. There are several quality improvements and additions that will energise and provide new tools for road-safety work. It would be a shame if 2017 closes without its adoption.
It will provide a new way of driver training and testing and new manuals have already been prepared and ready to go for this and also for a system of certifying driving instructors. There is also a new modernised Road Code rearing to go. There will also be a provision for driver retesting.
The ITA longs for the new act, as it will make the Demerit Point System (DPS) operational again, as it has come to an abrupt end for some time now, as the current act provides for the ITA to issue tickets, but it didn't appropriately provide for the watchdog to suspend and disqualify driver licensing - a legislative flaw, if ever there was one.
The traffic ticketing system remains a contentious issue, as tickets are being issued but there remains an unsatisfactory level of ticket payment. There are people with more than 1,200 unpaid tickets and some magistrates hesitate, or refuse, to issue warrants, as they are unsure if the tickets were actually paid.
This cannot continue, and the NRSC again calls for a sole entity to manage the issuance of traffic tickets. When we have a new act, persons with unpaid tickets will not be able to renew their licence or pay their vehicle registration
We look forward to our next meeting with the prime minister, who is the chairman of the NRSC, to discuss how to action his commitment to reduce fatalities by 50 per cent. It is doable.
No, we are not missing the point, Mr Thwaites. There is need for greater political will, and an end to bureaucratic delays and other hindrances. The time to act is now.
- Paula Fletcher is executive director of the National Road Safety Council. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.