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No hand-held devices for police while driving

Published:Friday | January 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

MEMBERS OF a joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the new Road Traffic Act on Wednesday shot down a request by the police to allow lawmen to use hand-held devices such as cellular phones or radio communication instruments while driving a motor vehicle or motorcycle, despite appeals from senior officers for an exemption for cops.

The proposed new Road Traffic Act indicates that motorists should not use cellular phones or other electronic devices while driving unless they are hands-free.

"I am totally against the notion of a man riding and making a call. I am totally against it. Regardless of how you are trained, it is dangerous," chairman of the committee reviewing the Road Traffic Act Dr Omar Davies asserted.

"To find a man riding, ostensibly chasing, making a phone call with a hand-held instrument and navigating traffic, I don't think it is feasible," Davies insisted.

Emergency situations

Head of the Police Traffic Department Senior Superintendent of Police Calvin Allen and his colleague, Deputy Superintendent of Police Gary McKenzie, urged the parliamentary committee to allow the police to use hand-held communications devices in emergency or duty-related situations.

"The police must be allowed within the context of the reality that now exists to operate and to treat with the national security issues that we have on a daily basis," SSP Allen contended.

DSP McKenzie sought to convince the committee that the police, through their superior training were adept at driving and using hand-held devices.

"I am an expert at driving motorcycles, I have been doing it for 21 years and I have responded to emergencies. In fact, there was a day when I drove the motor cycle from Eastwood Park Road straight up to Red Hills whilst communicating to actually capture a criminal who was driving," the senior cop explained.

However, the committee chairman received support from Dr Horace Chang who said giving the police the green light to use hand-held phones while driving a motor car or cycle could put both the officer and the public at risk.

"To suggest that you can take up a cell phone driving at 90 miles per hour after somebody who you are chasing is putting everybody at risk, including your own life. So I don't think they should be exempt from that," Chang said.

Senator Sophia Frazer Binns supported the police in their bid to get exemption for using hand-held devices for drivers. She said a police officer who is pursuing an offender may need to have the flexibility of using a hand-held device.

Committee member Delroy Chuck is of the view that policemen driving should only be allowed to use hand-held devices in the case of an emergency.

Chairman broke deadlock

Derrick Smith had another concern, questioning who will charge the police for committing a breach by using a cellular phone while driving.

After extensive deliberations, committee members were split on this decision, but the chairman broke the deadlock by rejecting the request from the lawmen.

The committee also retained a provision in the current Road Traffic Act which exempted the police from using seat belts while driving.