The accident scapegoats (Part 1)

by Jamille Broome Sunday, March 1 2015

As we’re all aware, new traffic fines went into effect on January 30, 2015, with the amendment to the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act via the Finance Act 2015.

This was in reaction to the 146 accidents, which resulted in 164 deaths in 2014, coupled with the misconception that the majority of accidents are caused by drunk drivers and “road racers”.

Firstly, for driving under the influence of alcohol, the fine has moved from $8,000 to $12,000 for a first conviction and can range from $15,000 to $22,500 for repeat offenders.

I have many issues with this “law” and it begins with the legal limit, which is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100ml of breath. I have asked inspectors, sergeants, corporals, constables and attorneys to explain this to me, but no one has a clue as to what it means in English.

So now we have a law shrouded in the vaguest of rhetoric to serve what purpose? Are we all expected to practice teetotalism, or are we expected to purchase our own breathalysers? Neither the TTPS nor any of the relevant Ministries have made an attempt to sensitize the nation on the equivalency of the prescribed blood-alcohol concentration limit. How will anyone know if the limit is three glasses of wine, two beers or a sip of babash?

We must also be cautious to note that the breathalyser isn’t 100 percent accurate, as there are four instances where the test can register a false positive: (1) belching, hiccupping or vomiting; (2) metabolism rate; (3) residual alcohol inside the mouth; and (4) the temperature of breath.

In one instance, a person who has not had a drink for over an hour can fail a test for burping just before.

And a man who had a beer right before getting back into his vehicle and subsequently getting pulled over and tested can face a hefty fine. Are the officers trained in making these determinations, or is the law to be upheld steadfastly? Are we trying to compensate for the budget shortfall? Or is our aim mass incarceration of the majority of people whom we all know will be unable to pay those fines? Has Stephen Cadiz, or anyone else for that matter, considered the effect of sending otherwise law-abiding citizens to prison? Prison sentences result in job loss, disturbance of family life, and without a prisoner classification system, we can see these drivers returning to society with degrees in crime after mingling with the other real criminals in there.

Of course, just like hanging, the main purpose of the law is deterrence. And just like hanging, statistics (regression analyses) prove that the deterrent factor is a myth. But like sheep, we follow blindly. I chose to adopt a heuristic perspective on this issue, which led me to the Arrive Alive NGO. In response to an e-mail query, the President, Sharon Inglefield, said that according to the TTPS, drunk drivers accounted for approximately 30 percent of road fatalities. I then contacted the TTPS’s Crime and Problem Analysis branch (CAPA) to confirm this figure and to get an idea of their statistical approach.

According to CAPA, there aren’t any “true” statistics on accidents related to drinking; however, after an accident, breathalyser tests are done on the drivers and blood tests on victims who died to determine their alcohol level. This is what is used to determine the aforementioned 30 percent.

I’m surprised that so many people have subscribed to this non sequiteur. How is the alcohol level of accident drivers or victims a true determinant of the cause of an accident?

How are we to know that the accident wasn’t caused by a bad drive, a person distracted by a cellphone, or someone who fell asleep at the wheel? This has to be the most misleading data ever compiled.

Secondly, for exceeding the speed limit, the fine has been increased from $4,000 to $6,000. Speeding in itself does not cause accidents; it’s actually reckless driving at high speeds. If a person drives a vehicle in a straight line at 200mph, an accident is highly unlikely. Introduce a bad drive and everything changes. There’s more peril created by dangerous drivers who change lanes without using indicators!

Thirdly, persons found driving without a valid driver’s permit can pay an increased fine of $1500 from the previous band of $500 – $1000. I find this to be extremely preposterous. I have a colleague who admitted to paying for his permit in the 1970s after failing the driving test. The corruption at the Licensing Office has continued unabated for decades, but instead of ensuring that “drivers” actually earn that title, along with their licenses, we focus on punishing drivers without it. We always try to kill blight by cutting the leaves.

Posted on March 3, 2015 in Local News

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