Contribution of the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister in his Capacity as Chairman of the National Road Safety Council to the Debate on the Road Traffic Act, 2016
(AN ACT to Repeal and Replace the Road Traffic Act; to establish the Island Traffic Authority for the regulation and control of traffic on roads; to improve road safety and transport efficiency and reduce the cost of administering road transport; to create new categories of driver’s licences; and for connected matters.)
Mr. Speaker, I recognise the Portfolio Minister and in my capacity as the Chairman of the National Road Safety Council; it is my responsibility to add my voice to this debate.
We all agree that the passing of this Road Traffic Act is critical.
Globally, about 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injuries. Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to victims, their families, and to nations as a whole.
As of yesterday, January 23rd:
Twenty persons (17 males and three females) have lost their lives on the nation’s roads with the overriding cause of these deaths being reckless use of the roadways.
A further breakdown shows that:
- 10 persons (50%) were pedestrians
- 7 persons (35%) were motorcyclists,
- 2 persons were private motor vehicle drivers;
- and one person was a commercial motor vehicle driver.
While this is less than the 27 road fatalities recorded for the same period in 2016, the trend of approximately one death per day continues.
All Jamaicans must make road safety a priority. We cannot continue to lose our people to fatal crashes which are largely preventable. Road traffic deaths continue to be a narrative which has a significant negative impact on our citizens and has almost become a part of our nation’s landscape.
Approximately 50% of the total road fatalities in both 2015 and 2016 were pedestrians and motorcyclists.
Approximately 56% of fatalities in 2015 and 55% in 2016 were in the 15-44 year age range. These are the most productive years of our citizens and has negative impact on our economic growth. It is of note that in both years, males accounted for approximately 84%.
Statistics from the Road Safety Unit within the Ministry of Transport and Mining, reveal that the main causes of fatal crashes were:
- excessive speeding,
- drivers failing to keep to the correct side of the roadway (overtaking)
- and of note, pedestrian error.
In 2014, 331 fatalities were recorded;
In 2015, 382 fatalities were recorded;
There was a minimal decrease in 2016, with 379 deaths recorded as a result of road fatalities , but this worrying trend of more than one death per day is still of grave concern.
It is the responsibility, not only of our road users but our regulators, road developers, law enforcement officers and all citizens of this country to ensure that we reverse this worrying trend.
It is important for us to get into our psyche that there are NO “ACCIDENTS”. Road crashes are largely preventable and we cannot ignore the impact:
- The pain, suffering and possibly loss of earnings of persons disabled by injuries:
- the anguish of families, friends and entire communities who are grieving;
- the tireless efforts of health personnel in an already burdened health system;
- the strain on emergency services and even the public to assist in critical moments
- the loss in productivity that may result in the increased commuting time and/or distance
- … I could continue to highlight the devastating effects but we are familiar as citizens and have all been impacted in some way.
Role of Legislation
The Government recognises that while we continue to urge persons to practise better road use; improved laws must be in place to deal with persons who put all Jamaicans, but particularly our most vulnerable; our senior citizens and our children, at risk. The actions we all take to address road safety must be holistic and it requires all hands on deck.
There must be complete involvement and co-ordination around this initiative involving :
the transport sector,
the health officials,
private organizations and most importantly all road users; our drivers, our motorcyclists, our passengers and our pedestrians.
Legislation must be revised and reviewed in order to ensure that it remains relevant, aligns with international best practices and serves the best interest of our Nation.
We are all aware that our existing Road Traffic Act dates back to 1938 and therefore it’s repeal and replacement is long overdue. While we welcome ease of mobility, with the needed improvement to our roads and advances in technology such as smart phones, these developments this must not be at the expense of our safety.
The new provisions and modifications to the new Road Traffic Act take us a significant way in ameliorating the critical issues faced by Jamaicans on the road and and achieves our objective to align the provisions of our laws with international best practices.
It takes into account:
- traffic management,
- the increase in the number of vehicles,
- the advancement in vehicle performance,
- changes in technology
- and improvements in the road networks,
and will improve road safety, aid in crime detection and prevention
and reduce road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.
Critical Features of the New Road Traffic Act
Mr. Speaker, I would like to highlight some critical features of the new Act:
- Section 20 under Part 4 of the Act, establishes new requirements for drivers making it mandatory to have a licence in possession while operating a vehicle. This will ensure that the police can identify drivers and confirm that they are allowed to operate the vehicles being driven. This will further facilitate police apprehension of wanted persons.
- Section 121 establishes a restriction on hand-held use of electronic communication devices while driving being. This is critical to minimizing distraction as we recognise that driving is a complex task requiring intense cognitive participation. International statistical data has shown that drivers using mobile phones are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash.
- The Act significantly updates the driver’s licencing system:
- Section 23 deals with the grant and duration of Learner’s Permits – The minimum age for a learners permit is 17 and issuance requires a minimum of 6 months of driver training.
It will now be a requirement to pass the road code test before a Learners permit is issued and the holder of the learner’s permit must be accompanied at all times while driving by a person who is the holder of a driver’s licence for not less than three years.
This will ensure that learner drivers understand the road code prior to exposure to “live” driving conditions.
The minimum of 6 months of a learning time period should ensure development of significant on-road learning prior to a learner taking the driving test.
The system for testing and licensing of drivers will be improved by the ITA publishing driver training manuals for all classes of licences and by ensuring that all holders of a licence are conversant with all the material in the manual.
- Section 27 requires newly licensed drivers to be subject to restrictions regarding breath alcohol concentration and speed. The level for this category is now 0.01% while operating a vehicle and they cannot exceed the limit of 80km/hour, on any road including the toll roads where the limit is 110km/hour.
It has been shown that young and novice drivers are subject to an increased risk of road traffic crashes when under the influence of alcohol and/or excessive speed, compared to older and more experienced drivers.
The legislation establishes new classifications of licences:
- Class A: Motorcycles – there has been a significant increase in the number of motorcyclists on our roads and therefore the new legislation now requires that all learner drivers must pass the Road Code Test before receiving a learner’s permit. Also a person can now only ride a motorcycle with a learner’s permit if he is accompanied by a licensed rider.
- Class B: Private car and light trucks (not for reward), and vehicles specially modified for persons with a prescribed physical disability.
- Class C: Commercial and PPV vehicles.
The 6th Schedule of the Act revises the Demerit Point System with one of its specific objectives being to ensure reduced speed in School Zones and Construction Work Zones. This is critical to reducing the incidence of serious crashes in these zones putting vulnerable children and construction workers at risk.
The points system will be also be rationalized, as will the levels of fines applicable to offences. This will ensure consistency related to similar offences).
Traffic fines and penalties increased substantially and are now more appropriate given intervening inflation.
The Act allows for disposal of seized or abandoned vehicles where owners cannot be located
The Court may now order “driver re-testing” of repeat offenders. This will allow the Court to remove habitual offenders from the road until they undergo driver re-training based on a programme approved by the ITA.
Vehicle-related transactions will now be restricted where traffic fines are unpaid. This will allow the State to “catch up” with habitual offenders, typically PPV and CMC drivers who drive with no regard for the rules of the road, receive multiple tickets and sometimes ignore their tickets.
The new Act will allow the Minister the power to make Regulations regarding electronic enforcement in relation to offences such as speeding, red light running, and improper lane use at intersections.
Importantly, the new Act will establish the ITA and define the roles/responsibilities of all authorities under the Act. There were some drafting errors going back to the 1980’s which have now been corrected which will result in the ITA now being able to take action against habitual offenders.
- ITA will now be able to suspend licences for drivers exceeding specified numbers of demerit points.
- Road Traffic Appeal Tribunal will (again) be activated to allow appeals against decisions of the ITA.
The Regulations are also at an advanced stage and will address measures such as:
- Abiding by international tyre tread depth standards which will reduce risk of skidding, especially on wet roads
- Operating dark-tinted vehicles – in order to ensure that police can see into vehicles at traffic stops
- Transportation of hazardous materials – Reduce crashes because of improper operation of vehicles and ensure protocols and procedures in place to minimize threats to health and environment in the event of crashes)
Mr. Speaker, the most positive changes to road user behaviour occur when road safety legislation is supported by strong and sustained enforcement, and public awareness. Visible and high levels of enforcement will be utilized to persuade the public that breaking the law in the future will result in a penalty. Inadequate resources, administrative problems and corruption, will not be used as excuses to achieving the desired outcome.
While the Government recognizes its responsibility in protecting our citizens on the nation’s streets; we call on the private sector, the churches, schools, workplaces; all organizations to play a part in the road safety message.
In closing Mr. Speaker, Jamaica in moving forward recognises the importance of proper planning and coordination with the enabling role of Legislation. Through the alignment of all sectors and our work towards increased investment, crime reduction, community re-development and economic growth we continue to increase the quality of life for all Jamaicans, with safer roads in a safer nation.