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'Dangerous driving' slows traffic law review

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Members of a Joint Parliamentary Committee and resource persons examining the Road Traffic Act during a special sitting in Gordon House yesterday.-Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Committee struggles with definition during special Saturday sitting

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

As the Joint Parliamentary Committee races against time to complete the review of Jamaica's road traffic laws, members careened on a collision course with the legal terminologies "careless, dangerous and reckless driving" during a special sitting at Gordon House yesterday.

Committee chairman Dr Omar Davies and Senator Ruel Reid of the Opposition were emphatic that provisions must be placed in law to ensure that pedal cyclists and pedestrians can be captured in law.

"We are eroding public order and it is imperative that we start re-establishing order in that regard," said Davies.

Underscoring the need for speed, Davies quipped, "We (can't) spend 16 years drafting the legislation and another 16 years reviewing it."

It was established, early in the sitting, that under the proposed legislation, offences falling under the terms dangerous, careless and reckless driving are lengthy.

Legislators on both sides of the parliamentary divide expressed concern that there was a lack of specific definitions on the terms.

They suggested that the new-look legislation would not be clear to road users who may come in collision with the law.

"What does careless driving constitutes," queried Davies at the start of the sitting. "If I am charged, I would want to know what I am accused of, the wording sounds nebulous and arbitrary."

Government member, Senator Navel Clarke, stressed that there was a need to ensure that accused persons be informed exactly of the offence for which they are accused. "The law must be worded to inform the average person," argued Clarke. "Road users need to know under the law what they are accused of."

An educator by profession, Reid called for more specific wording to deal with infractions perpetrated in silent zones such as schools.

But the parliamentary committee was told that given the nature of the plethora of offences, it is a part of case law.

Lesser offence

Law-enforcement representatives explained to the committee that careless driving is a lesser offence than dangerous or reckless driving and, therefore, attracts a lesser penalty.

The committee was also told that dangerous driving which results in a fatality attracts a manslaughter charge even if the offence in question does not constitute the element of speed.

Police representatives explained to the committee that in light of the fact that they are not in a position to elevate the charge after the matter is taken before the court, they start at the highest level, which is a charge of manslaughter.

Asked who draws that distinction, the committee was told that the court makes the decision to reduce the charge.