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EDITORIAL - Making a mockery of traffic policing

Published:Saturday | June 2, 2012 | 12:00 AM

It's an open secret that some of the most egregious breaches committed on our nation's streets are carried out by operators of public passenger vehicles. Many treat red lights as suggestions instead of orders, disregard pedestrians' right to use the road, and are known to let off passengers in the middle of busy streets. Often, their recklessness has resulted in death and serious injury to the public.

The country greets each incident with outrage and then returns to life as usual, still struggling to decide where to draw the line between one's right to make a living and one's societal responsibility to obey the laws in the interest of public safety.

This week, a driver with more than 85 outstanding traffic tickets was involved in an accident which claimed the life of a schoolboy. Residents demonstrated against Transport Authority personnel whom they claim were chasing the driver after he disobeyed a signal to stop. Thankfully, this was a small group, even though the message they were sending was loud and unwelcome. The protesters may have been well-intentioned in the circumstances where a child had died; however, they were obviously affected by a failure of perspective.

Rather than blaming the agents of the Transport Authority and the police, they should try to force a change of attitude among bus drivers by urging them to obey the law and improve their behaviour on the roads.

We had not even digested the Portmore situation when this newspaper reported on Friday that another driver holding more than 130 traffic tickets had been stopped in a spot check in St Catherine. The fact that he was given three more tickets and then released is a good indication of the limitations of the current system.

Weak excuses

The usually outspoken head of the Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Radcliffe Lewis, seemed to suggest, in his latest interview with The Gleaner, that it is nigh impossible to find and prosecute these lawbreakers because of a lack of resources. This newspaper finds no sympathy with such an argument.

The picture that emerged from the superintendent's interview is that the Traffic Division is an antiquated operation requiring someone to sit at a computer and thumb through a million driver's licences to detect those who have violations registered against their names.

We cannot tell the superintendent how to do his job; however, in many parts of the world, the system is set up to flag traffic violations, record the registration of the vehicle, and issue summonses with little human intervention.

It's not just SSP Lewis who emerges in a poor light. The Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Ministry of National Security and the entire justice system are all implicated. It is clear that we need an intelligent traffic-monitoring system to punish those who blatantly violate traffic rules. The current system of fines, confiscation of licences and imprisonment is not working.

The network of closed-circuit surveillance systems at busy intersections and in sensitive areas of Kingston and St Andrew needs to be expanded. It is not cheap to access this kind of equipment, but it is clear that police personnel cannot do it alone. Technology must become the eyes and ears of police personnel.

It is an investment well worth it in the lives that will be saved and the reduction in demand for public-health services for those who have been injured.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.