My attention was drawn to a commentary in the Guardian of 23/1/19 headlined "Motorists are not being penalised" written by one Marvin Gonzales who is head of the Legal Services Unit in the Ministry of Works and Transport. His comments were in response to a column which I had penned on 18/1/19.
His response, however, does not refute the central point of my column which is that the general motoring public contribute heavily to the Treasury by way of direct taxation including increases in the price of fuel, the imposition of a plethora of fees for transactions at the Licensing Office as well as the levying of heavy fines for infractions of traffic regulations, whether major or minor ($90 m in 2018 alone). In return, motorists are subjected to generally deplorable road conditions throughout the country. A motorist buys a vehicle and makes a considerable outlay from his personal finances not to have it parked in a garage at home but for it to be driven on the roads which, on the whole, are pathetically substandard when compared to roads even in Tobago, Grenada or Barbados.
The head of the Legal Services Unit has not addressed this contention nor has he even mentioned the notoriously debilitating road conditions which are a major contributory factor to road accidents, some of which are fatal. However, it is possible that this senior bureaucrat does not drive himself but is chauffeur-driven. He therefore would not appreciate the dangers involved in trying to avoid the numerous potholes or in driving over unidentified depressions and uneven surfaces on roads of poor design or the added anxiety experienced in negotiating a narrow roadway part of which has slipped away or the virtual absence of white lines, proper signage and street lighting which would assist drivers, particularly at night and during periods of rainfall.
There are two recent instances in which it is alleged that road deaths had been caused by the dereliction on the part of the Ministry of Works and Transport. A young doctor from Central died a couple of months ago at the Factory Road Exit on the Solomon Hochoy Highway, Chaguanas, because those who visited the scene claimed that there was no lighting, unidentifiable signage and road markings and lack of visibility of the concrete barriers. The other instance was when a young motorcyclist from La Romaine lost his life at the intersection of Dumfries Road and the S S Erin Road, Debe, in the vicinity of the overpass. I myself can testify that there was no stop sign, no road marking and no street lighting at the intersection.
I am accused by Mr Gonzales of being guilty of "many misrepresentations and gross distortions on the holistic work programme of the MOWT". In his article I expected him to identify these 'misrepresentations and gross distortions' in my column of 18/1/19. As a lawyer, which I presume Mr Gonzales is, he should be aware that in a court of law one has to support accusations by specific evidence which, if not forthcoming, elicits a no-case verdict. Then perhaps the head of the Legal Services Unit has confined himself to administrative work and public relations.
Almost his whole commentary of 23/1/19 was an elaborate public relations statement on how well the MOWT has implemented the many road traffic laws and regulations including those dealing with seatbelts, breathalyzer, mobile phones, and speed guns as well as making it easier for the payment of fees and fines. The hitherto lethargic MOWT has mounted a public relations offensive with a costly ten-page advertisement in the Sunday Express and the Sunday Newsday, which will be addressed by me later.
There is no doubt that the enforcement of traffic regulations would have had some deterrent effect on errant drivers but to what degree. In my column, I noted that in 2018 alone 38,000 speeding tickets were issued. These figures do not include the tens of thousands who would have broken the speed limit but were not caught. One can therefore conclude that enforcement of speed control regulations may not be having the desired effect and therefore the ministry needs to look at more effective preventive measures for eg, the mandatory installation of speed alert devices on vehicles or a vigorous public relations programme to emphasise the miniscule saving in time when speeding for short distances as is the case in Trinidad.
If Mr Gonzales is of the opinion, as indicated in the headline of his commentary, that motorists are not being penalised, perhaps he may wish to have the benefit of an independent random poll of the views and sentiments of motorists nationwide. Finally, I have not issued any direct or indirect call for protest action by motorists. I merely remarked on their tolerance and the possibility that, in Sparrow’s words, "dey like it so".