Road users here face serious penalties that include hefty fines and imprisonment, if they breach tough, new measures in the Barbados Road Traffic Amendment Act introduced in Parliament this morning by Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley.
Outlining a range of changes to the current legislation, including the much touted breathalyzer testing, Lashley told his parliamentary colleagues the amendments, come against the backdrop of an increase in crimes involving the use of unregistered vehicles and those with “fake licence plates”, as well as littering and serious and fatal road accidents.
In a presentation sprinkled with praise for the Barbados Road Safety Association (BRSA) and other stakeholders, the transport minister said the new law, which had been in the making for over four years, was inclusive and was in keeping with a new vision of the ruling Democratic Labour Party regarding traffic accidents and road fatalities.
“The invite is that we must look to adopt a ‘vision zero’ approach with respect to road fatalities in Barbados. This ‘vision zero’ policy is a framework for implementation [of] road safety policies seeking to lower fatalities and serious injuries as a result of accidents on our roadways,” Lashley said.
The amended legislation makes provision for standardizing licence plates and for addressing the issue of abandoned vehicles. It also makes it an offence for drivers to park in spots reserved for the disabled.
Explaining that there were steps that the chief technical officer must take to deal with the matter of abandoned vehicles, Lashley said: “We place in this provision the imposition of fees, the disposal of abandoned vehicles and the steps to be taken by owners of abandoned vehicles to recover those vehicles.”
The introduction of breathalyzer testing to tackle drunk driving is sure to please the BRSA, which has been advocating for such a measure, as well as tougher penalties for motorists responsible for road fatalities, to increase road safety.
Seemingly fed up with the many delays, BRSA President Sharmane Roland-Bowen in March dismissed as “false promises”, an announcement by Lashley then that the improved road traffic legislation would go before Parliament by June of this year.
In his presentation today, Lashley said the measure would make provision for lawmen to request a breathalyzer test once there is justifiable cause, explaining that anyone who refuses to take such a test or to provide a blood or urine sample in the case of a serious or fatal accident would be fined or face imprisonment.
In addition, he said drivers who park in designated spots for the disabled would face a $500 fine.
“I am saying that all of these issues we dealt with, we discussed them with the stakeholders and they are on board with us. What we are seeking to do is not only promote road safety, but we are seeking also to have standards [and] regulating of traffic. That is what we are doing,” he explained.
Though not going into detail, the minister said the Act would also make provision for better registration and monitoring of all-terrain and heavily tinted vehicles, and would provide a level of protection for workers carrying out cleaning or construction activity along the roadways.
Pointing out that the revamped Act also gives the Chief Licensing Officer and the Licensing Authority more power, Lashley explained that the Government agency could refuse to issue, renew or replace a permit, licence or registration of a vehicle where the payment has been made “by means of a dishonoured cheque” or where the individual has fees outstanding.
The law also addresses the vexing issue of littering, making provision for fines of up to $200 or imprisonment of up to three months for both the driver and the person caught littering.
During this morning’s presentation little was said about how the changes would be enforced. However, Lashley pledged that Government would work closely with stakeholders to uphold the law, and that lawmen and other relevant stakeholders would receive the requisite training.
Earlier this year Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite had dismissed calls for tougher legislation to curb the number of fatal road accidents here, arguing that new laws would not stop road deaths.
Brathwaite said then the issue was “not just a legislative issue because from what I am being told it is mostly recklessness”.
He had also suggested that more could be done to educate young drivers about the dangers of reckless driving, while placing some of the responsibility on the shoulders of local motorsport associations, saying there was a worrying trend of young drivers speeding after attending motorsport events at Bushy Park, St Philip.