Trinidad and Tobago


Making crash-test dummies

May 23, 2001

FOR all the initiatives and thrusts in the more obvious domains of sand, sea, sun, romance and ecology, it is the unlikely area of driving in Trinidad and Tobago that has evolved into our most vibrant tourism sub-sector.

Recognising the redundancy of going all the way to the Asa Wright Nature Centre, canoeing through the Caroni Swamp or climbing the slopes of El Tucuche to experience a slice of the wild, tourists these days simply secure vantage points at urban centres and watch local traffic.

My friend Rigsby, entrepreneur extraordinaire, believes he can convince his buddies at Ripley’s Believe It or Not to look at the feasibility of live Friday evening programming from Port of Spain’s Cipriani Circle. According to Rigsby, each episode would run for three hours, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Economic activity at street level is already enjoying an unprecedented boom, as more vehicles flood the roads and their owners seek ways of meeting monthly instalments, including “pulling bull”, the local term by which sporadic or “gypsy” cab operation is known.

Whether insured for hire or not, drivers earn US dollars by taking visitors on the ultimate death-defying wild ride, brooking no caution from their passengers in the quest to upstage competing entertainment from Universal Studios.

Generally, vehicle operators have little regard for order and no one respects the agreement to keep left except when overtaking. Requesting clearance to pass a slowpoke in the fast lane could earn you the middle finger, a gesture often accompanied by a soundtrack fit for sailors. For those who strictly observe the highway code, road rage is the only reward.

Consequently, Rigsby believes foreigners would be willing to pay top dollar to merely observe these goings-on, having come from spoilsport countries where alert police officers swoop down on any premeditated attempt to snuff out human life.

“Everyone is this country acts like they’re driving a getaway car,” is how Rigsby put it. “From what I see, the amber light is an indication that nine more cars, two panel vans and a motorbike can make it if they hustle.

“This is exciting and marketable. And I am privately sorry that you stopped hand-signals,” he observed, “or this country may have been more famous for amputees than pan, calypso and natural gas combined.”

Now, Rigsby is something of a cynic. But when the Transport Minister and Police Commissioner cannot even agree on whether the use of cellular phones while driving increases the risk of traffic accidents, it must be time to get a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator.

For all their expressed concerns, things could get significantly more nasty out there, if there is no consensus on causative factors for driving delinquency before conceiving corrective action.

And while no one expects every driver to fully understand the role of torque as a rotary force, or other technical features of an internal combustion engine, there should at least be a minimum appreciation of what a vehicle would do in a given set of circumstances. These things must be taught to new drivers, who are coming onto much more crowded roads than their parents did.

Of course, the recent gory mishap involving a trailer-truck and a taxi has caused every traffic management guru to come up with theories on the safe handling of trucks, although my experiences suggest that as a category, truck-operators are the least of our worries.

Indeed, in the case that triggered this large scale frenzy and threats of zero tolerance, it is clear to me that the taxi-driver was at fault, engaging in swashbuckling tactics, even as others in the same predicament decided to wait for a safe break. Interestingly, even after the accident, the load on the truck remained securely fastened.

It is, therefore, yet another knee-jerk reaction to the problem, the source of which is yet to be officially fingered. The only legal requirement for someone to teach another person to drive, is that the instructor has been licensed for three years, a regulation that pays no attention to what kind of driver the teacher was in the first place.

We might, therefore, be churning out waves of crash-test dummies, drivers with no traffic handling skills, who trundle down highways, completely unaware of how differently vehicles behave under full load or on wet roads, the effect of mind-altering substances on judgment or, for that matter, how brakes really work.

So let’s not rush to condemn truck drivers, but go instead to the root cause, recognising the value of the old adage: What you sow, so shall you reap. But alas, instead of examining the source, our continuing attention is focused on the grim reaper.

Until we start to teach driving from secondary school level, facing up to the reality of where fault lies, perhaps the tourism agency should really target curious foreigners who are willing to pay for the thrill of watching us drive.

Having done the calculations, Rigsby thinks such an initiative could be worth millions.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage

Message Board
Trinicenter Home
Any problems with this page? Contact our webmaster. This site is designed and maintained by Trinicenter
Copyright © 2000 - 2001 Terry-J