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Road deaths out of control

Transport Commissioner says:

By Mark Pouchet

xGovernment is moving to address the issue of road accidents and fatalities with a proposal to amend and upgrade the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act (MVRTA) to include speed management in the short term.

And in the longer term, the Ministry of Transport is in the process of developping a national road safety policy, that is being spearheaded by the three-month old National Road Safety Council led by permanent secretary in the Ministry Myrna Thompson.

However, Transport Commissioner Ruben Cato says the figures of road deaths are too high and the situation is "out of control".

As of May 13, there have been 64 road deaths for the year so far.

"I think the authorities are paying little or no attention to the rate of accidents on our roads. I don't think there is a national holistic plan to address the issue. There is a need for a national road safety policy," he told the Sunday Express in an interview last week.

He said his division was severely short-staffed.

"Our measures are reduced to road checks using the small team that we have but there is much more than that to this whole exercise," Cato said, adding that measures like graduate driving courses, public awareness programmes, starting at the school level, and driver rehabilitation and retraining for habitual offenders were others.

Cato said the enforcememt aspect should improve from the current system of policemen and licensing officers pulling over vehicles to include speed and radar guns and cameras that time and track a vehicle's speed over a certain distance.

"Things like this will definitely go a long way. When persons know they are likely to be caught, they will obey the rules," Cato said.

Sergeant Wayne Mystar of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service said last week the police are committed to playing their enforcement role.

"We will be doing our part in enforcing the breathalyser (legislation) and speed testing," he said. "We are being very vigilant but we are urging the public to exercise a level of responsibility because we don't have any control when a driver goes behind a wheel to control their speed."

Mystar said the TTPS and its officers are coming down hard on people who commit traffic offences, especially driving under influence of alcohol.

"Even police are being charged for failing the breathalyser because we are on a zero tolerance..," Mystar said, adding that the TTPS was advocating defensive driving courses especially for people renewing their permits to ensure drivers are current with all the nation's driving laws.

Minister of Transport Devant Maharaj says his Ministry is reworking and upgrading the MVRTA so that it can place a proposal for speed management before the Legislative Reform Committee—the committee where technocrats review the laws.

Maharaj said there are other aspects to make bar owners culpable in cases where they or their agents repeatedly serve alcoholic drinks to a person who is going to drive.

"They must be made to exercise some due diligence, some degree of responsibility, in many cases that does not occur at all," he said.

Maharaj told the Sunday Express in a phone interview that measures included in the proposal will address people who drive recklessly and destroy public property and they will be made to pay for the damage or replacement.

The Minister also said they plan to introduce a points system so that continual law breakers could eventually lose their licence.

Vice chairman of the National Road Safety Council Brent Batson said the planned introduction of the Motor Vehicle Authority in the coming years will go a long way to curbing road fatalities.

He said the Ministry is moving full speed to finalise the policy so that police surveillance bays and cameras line the major highways and roadways in the country to monitor trafic movement

Asked if he was satisfied with the Government's moves to address the situation, Batson said last week: "I think they have gotten a wake-up call and also new lending guidelines from institutions like the IADB and CDB include components to road safety management for road infrastructure loans."

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