3 Jun 2008

Guardian Editorial

Graphic reports of blood-stained episodes on the roads and highways and of the funerals of strikingly young crash victims may have galvanised sentiment, if not yet corrective action.

Government and Opposition MPs voted to enact the long-awaited Breathalyser bill.

The legislation is being passed at a time when the perils and frustrations of road use weigh ever more heavily on the consciousness of everyone. The roads and highways have never seemed more inadequate.

As vehicle population has hugely expanded, traffic management and traffic regulation and highway code enforcement, so far from keeping pace, have evidently declined.

Conceivably, more people may be driving who have had too much to drink.

Once out of the ever-present traffic jams, more drivers may be moved to step hard on the gas to make up for lost time.

The Transport Minister has cited an estimate that 30 per cent of all accidents involve drivers with unduly high levels of alcohol in their systems.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and others on her side of the House pointed to speeding and other daily-observed recklessness.

All agree that the use of cellphones while driving heightens the hazards.

Suicidal impulse

The focus, inevitably, remains on those behind the wheel who, in accidents, are routinely reported by police to have "lost control" of their vehicles.

Even in the case of horrific accidents, such as last weekend's, forensic or other inquiries never delve far enough into exactly why drivers "lost control."

Ruling out a suicidal or a murderous impulse, or both, what factors induced the drivers to "lose control," with such tragic and grievous consequences?

Far too many accidents remain unsolved mysteries.

Significantly, Mr Imbert cited drunk-driving research in "developed" countries. None of the other MPs drew upon statistical or other findings of T&T investigations.

The solutions being proposed, then, run the risk of being based on intuition and gut feeling, rather than on scientifically-run studies.

Solutions like the breathalyser look good and even compelling, but they may only heighten expectations due certain to be disappointed by the resilient reality of the road.

Something of this reality was captured in a sermon by Fr Henry Charles, who is also a practising lawyer and a Guardian columnist, at the funeral of a teenager killed in last weekend's big crash.

"Traffic on T&T roads is one of routine lawlessness," he said.

"Police say it's a matter of road safety, but it should also be a matter of law enforcement."

Workable scheme

For most of the time, and on most of the roads and highways, traffic policing is simply absent. Senior police officials no longer even try to deny this abandonment of responsibility.

Last week, Asst Commissioner Donaldy Ferguson referred to the widely-observed under-deployment of traffic police, and more or less admitted a lack of staff.

Traffic police are far too few in number, and are far too infrequently deployed to best effect, or in areas where violations are rampant. Who can give the assurance that sufficient (trained) officers are available to administer the breathalyser?

Moreover, in contrast with Barbados, where computers are installed in patrol cars and officers supplied with radar for monitoring speed-limit compliance, the T&T police are hopelessly under-equipped.

A workable scheme for governance of the road must entail, apart from law enforcement, better signage, better maintained, and more regularly distributed, including signs showing speed-limit numbers.

The roads and highways must be pothole-free, consistently well-lit, and the surfaces properly demarcated with white or luminous lines for lanes, verges and stopping points. The breathalyser cannot be the only arrow in the bow of the Transport Minister.