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Raffique Shah


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'Road hogs' must be penned permanently

By Raffique Shah
June 03, 2007

If there is anything shocking about our outrage over the horrendous road accidents we have experienced within recent times, it is our expression of shock. Ruthlessness on the road is symptomatic of the lawlessness that pervades the society. Basic manners and common courtesy have degenerated to the point where they hardly exist even among our elders. Terms like "good day", "hello", "please" and "thank you", to mention a few courtesies that were standard yesterday, are aberrations today. Does the Traffic Chief seriously think the average motorist of today takes him on when he appeals to all to drive carefully? He would be more successful addressing pigs in a pen.

Driving at high speed, a main cause of carnage on today's overcrowded roads, is merely a reflection of the animalistic tendencies that so many of humankind have receded into. Human life has no value, whether it's on a gang turf or the public road. It's why so many of these murderers-on-wheels can trigger mass deaths by their recklessness and simply drive away as if nothing happened. They stand even less chance than gunslingers of being caught, and if they are, they escape with petty fines that make murder-on-the-road "no big thing".

Many people blame the traffic police for the spate of killer accidents: have they stopped to think how many cops we'd need to police all the main roads and highways in the country around the clock? That's not an option. What we need is not more policing but the removal from our roads of all dangerous drivers. We can start by updating our ancient traffic laws and introducing modern technology to combat the problem. I recall when the Act that introduced the "ticket" system was introduced in Parliament by then AG Selwyn Richardson, in speaking during the debate, I suggested that it was unfair to apply the same penalty to someone who was driving barely above the speed limit and another who was drag racing on the road. Richardson disagreed, the laws were enacted, and except for an increase in the fines that apply, nothing more was ever done to upgrade the system.

Using the UAE as a comparison because that country is similar to ours in having to cope with a mass growth of vehicles on its roads, it has long had radar "guns" to trap mad motorists, or even the errant red-light-runner. Come July in Dubai, motorists who exceed the speed limits by 50kph and more will have their vehicles confiscated. Like seized, impounded! The city will increase its radar and CCTV monitors from 172 to 865. Fines will be increased to the point where it hurts. This system, which is not new technology, captures road criminals complete with photographs, number plates, dates and times of infringements. Dubai's traffic chief said that ever since the government introduced these measures on a main highway that saw accidents similar to ours, road deaths in that zone have declined to almost zero. And his warnings to errant motorists were clear: you will pay a heavy price for being insensitive to your fellow motorists.

Can anyone who is peeping through "Vision 2020" glasses tell me why we have no radar-sensors to trap speeding motorists here? Hell, we don't even have the outdated breathalyser! The Government should be ashamed that we boast of being the metropolis of the Caribbean, but traffic cops are still waving handkerchiefs and using stop watches to trap speeding motorists. What will it cost to have electronic "eyes" along all our main roads? A few hundred million dollars, less than we spend on any one mega-project the Government is currently engaged in. But again, it's a case of having our priorities skewed. Will the installation of a comprehensive traffic monitoring and policing system yield more adulation than the new Hyatt Regency five-star hotel? I doubt it: Trini will look up in awe at the new "smog-scraper" and say with pride, "Ah boy! We reach!"

Reach indeed. So many people never arrive at their destinations, some because of their own stupidity, others because they are victims of road hogs. Few of these death-dealing crashes can be deemed accidents. Government has a major role to play in dealing with road carnage, but we citizens also have ours. We can start with restoring basic manners in our homes, which in turn may lead to courtesy, and finally at respecting each other's right to use the roads sensibly.

Somehow, though, I suspect I'm being naive. Which is why I rather like the Dubai solution: you want to drag-race on our roads, put people's lives in danger? Seize your vehicle, impound it, and you lose your right to drive on our roads forever! Well, maybe until you grow up, become responsible. You chalk up too many "points" for other traffic offences, same penalty. Those who can't hear must be made to feel to hurt. Deviants must also endure the never-ending pain they inflict on their innocent victims. And please, don't let me hear a peep about human rights.