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Jamaican Government to sue for damage to road furnishings

Published:Tuesday | June 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Traffic police inspect the documents of a motorist they stopped in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, yesterday.
This policeman is making sure that motorists obey the traffic regulations.

Motorists who crash their vehicles into road furnishings such as guard rails and signs will be forced to pay, through their insurance companies, for their repair or replacement as the cash-strapped Government looks at ways to reduce its expenditure in these areas.

Dr Morais Guy, the minister without portfolio in the works ministry, said yesterday that consideration is being given to charging for the repairs and that the Attorney General's Department has been asked to provide a legal opinion on the matter.

"The Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, along with the National Works Agency, has an opinion from the Attorney General's Department that indicates that the Government can claim on damage to road furniture," the minister said.

He said further that the opinion provided is that the claim would be done in the same way a third party is able to claim on another person's insurance if there is a crash.

"It is being done because we think that equity needs to prevail, in that, for too long, the taxpayer has been called upon to pay for the expenses of people who are careless on the road and for people who have insurance with insurance companies, which at some stage, they should be liable for some of the damage done not only to the road, but to the road furniture," Guy told The Gleaner.

Asked if the policy would result in increased premiums, Guy said he did not think so.

The Insurance Association of Jamaica has said that discussions have been held with the Government about the issue, admitting that damage to road furniture would be covered as any third-party damage within the constraints of the policy.

"If the claims start to climb, it will impact the premiums," Orville Johnson, executive director of the Insurance Association of Jamaica, told The Gleaner.

"We will honour our obligations within the context of the policies. What it might mean is that some of the policy limits might have to be revisited," he added.

Meanwhile, the minister, in opening the debate on the new Road Traffic Bill in the House of Representatives yesterday, reported that the joint select committee that considered the bill agreed that there could be a provision that "allows the agency that has to repair the road to be able to claim as a civil debt any repair that they may need to carry out".

"Further, for offences causing damage to the road, the driver, as well as the owner, would be charged as the driver would be at the point where the offence has been committed," Guy added.

The Road Traffic Bill proposes to make it an offence for any person on a road to cause any wheel of any vehicle to drag or spin upon the surface of the roadway except in the case of an emergency. It is also proposed that it become an offence to use any vehicle or object or move any vehicle or object on the roadway in a manner causing or likely to cause damage to the roadway.

The bill further states that persons who breach the provision will be subjected to a $20,000 fine, or in default of payment, be imprisoned for one month.

The provision includes causing to be spilled on the road surface any debris, concrete mix, garbage, oil, or similar material; or causing debris or any matter to be burnt or used in such a manner as to cause damage to any roadway. The offender will be penalised.

The bill is proposing that a person who sells, displays, offers for sale or delivers pursuant to a sale any goods on any road, except on the part of the road demarcated for that purpose by the appropriate road authority, be fined $10,000. Failure to pay the fine will result in the person being imprisoned for 15 days.

The bill is proposing that drivers who operate motor vehicles without their driver's licence or learner's permit in their possession be slapped with a $2,000 fine.

Currently, persons have 48 hours to furnish the police with a driver's licence.

"There have been serious concerns coming from the Jamaica Constabulary Force," Guy said. He added, "There have been instances where the police have been unable to trace those persons, and as a consequence, a lot of criminality does and can occur."

However, West Kingston Member of Parliament, the Opposition's Desmond McKenzie, in sotto voce statements, said that the suggestions are "exploitation", "draconian", and "wicked".

Guy expressed disappointment at the utterances.

"There has to be a certain responsibility of our persons on the road and one of the responsibilities that we are seeking is to have our people understand that there is the need at all times to ensure that you say who you are by operating in the context in which you are operating," the minister said.

"There is nothing wrong with you having your driver's licence on you, and if you don't, you pay the penalty," he added.