In a Bridgetown magistrate’s court last Friday, a minibus driver appearing on charges related to 21 traffic violations, presented a rather interesting defence in obvious justification of the lawlessness and indiscipline which Barbadians have come to associate with that particular segment of the public transportation sector.
The repeat traffic offender told Magistrate Graveney Bannister: “It is very difficult to drive minibus and not break the law. I don’t plan to break the law. It is just happens when I out working and looking for money,” said the gentleman, who ended up going to jail. However, his argument did not end there. He also contended: “Just because we are driving minibus, we don’t deserve to get report and lock up all the time.”
It was a defence which not only provided an interesting insight into the thinking apparently informing the behaviour of some minibus and ZR drivers but was also grounded in a logic which clearly suggested that PSV drivers should somehow be treated differently from others for violating the road traffic laws simply because they are hustling for money and making an honest living.
Imagine if other motorists were to follow suit and present a similar case for special treatment when they break the law, absolute chaos would prevail on our roads. It would boil down to a case of everyone doing as they please which would lead to a really dangerous situation where safety would be severely compromised and human lives placed at great risk.
To ensure the existence of law and order not only on the public roads and highways but also in every other aspect of human activity, modern society has as its sheet anchor a fundamental principle known as the rule of law. It is there to ensure that while citizens go about their business in exercise of their rights and freedoms, they do so in a responsible manner so that others can equally do likewise.
We are confident that we speak for the vast majority of Barbadians when we say that the culture of indiscipline and lawlessness which has been allowed to develop within the PSV sector over the years, has become a major hindrance to others in the enjoyment of their rights while travelling on this country’s roads. Indeed, certain practices by some PSV drivers pose a serious risk to the safety of their own passengers, other motorists and, in some cases, pedestrians and bystanders.
Examples include reckless overtaking sometimes at high speed, indiscriminate stopping at places other than designated bus stops to take on or put down passengers, going off designated routes, blocking the free flow of traffic by stopping side by side in the road so that drivers can engage in conversation, playing of loud music and abusing passengers who complain, stopping and facilitating alighting passengers to cross the road from in front, at great danger of being struck by an oncoming vehicle which may use the opportunity to overtake.
Is it any wonder that minibuses and ZRs are involved in so many accidents on our roads, sometimes triggering mass casualty responses? At least we can be thankful that there have been relatively few fatalities over the years but, unless there is firm resolve by the authorities to put an end to the lawlessness, such luck may eventually run out. The loss of one life through such carelessness is the loss of one too many.
More of our motorists, for their own safety, ought to invest in acquiring the skills of defensive driving. Such skills are necessary to help avoid getting into collisions with PSVs which tend to stop suddenly ahead. Defensive driving enables motorists to anticipate actions that are likely to be taken by the vehicle directly ahead and to be alert and prepared to deal effectively with any such possibility. PSV drivers need to be subjected to more careful screening during the recruitment process and be fully sensitized of their responsibilities to other road users before being allowed behind the wheel.
It is past time that PSVs are brought in line and made to show more consideration and respect for other road users. We hope, at least, that the recently passed Road Traffic Act will help to bring about this much-needed change. Given the deterioration of the service provided by the state-owned Transport Board in recent years, the contribution of PSVs to public transportation will undeniably remain crucial in the years ahead.