By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
CHANGES to the Road Traffic Act meant to save lives were passed in the House of Assembly yesterday.
The Road Traffic Amendment Act 2019 was passed in one sitting of Parliament after being tabled last September.
Transport and Local Government Minister Renward Wells told the House before the passing of the amendments that the government hoped to disrupt increasing traffic fatalities, which are now ranked among the common causes of death in the country.
Road traffic accidents are now the 13th highest cause of death in the country and without legislative changes, the government believes this will continue.
During her contribution to the debate, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin noted that breathalyser provisions had still not been activated.
According to National Security Minister Marvin Dames, there were 63 traffic fatalities last year which represented a 29 percent increase from 2017. He said unfortunately, resulting from those 63 accidents were the deaths of 69 victims, reflecting a 28 percent increase from the previous year.
Of the traffic fatality victims by island, 42 of the fatalities occurred on New Providence, 11 on Grand Bahama and 10 on the remaining Family Islands, he said.
As a result, lawmakers passed amendments that will criminalise both the use of phones while driving and driving with an open alcoholic beverage.
Motorists will also immediately have to produce proof of insurance and a driver’s licence upon the request of a police officer.
The amendment also requires the payment of outstanding traffic offence fines before renewing a driver’s licence.
Driving instructors will further be prohibited from holding electronic devices under the bill but the stipulation will not apply to those driving emergency vehicles or a vehicle that is lawfully parked and not impeding traffic.
A person failing to adhere to these provisions would be liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000, according to the amendment however Mr Wells told The Tribune yesterday this would be reduced to $500.
The amendments also mean motorists will be perfectly within the parameters of the law if they make a cautious left turn on a red traffic light.
The amendments will have to be passed at the Senate level and then published in a gazette before they are officially enacted and become law.
“It is legislation for life,” Mr Wells said. “It is legislation to save lives.
“Mr Speaker, those who chose to behave responsibly should not continue to be put at risk by those who do not and we in this government will not allow this to continue,” Mr Wells also told the House yesterday.
“Distracted driving has caused many unnecessary and untimely deaths. Texting and driving increases the risk of an accident by about 32 percent. The Bahamas will now become the 33rd country to enact such laws.”
He continued: “We want the Bahamian people to know and understand that they will be able to use their cell phones if it is blue toothed through their cars or ear sets that they will wear. We want all and sundry to understand that the law requires when you are driving you are supposed to have both hands on the wheel, so if you want to text you should probably pull over to the side of the road because the two or three seconds will make a difference in saving a life.”
When she spoke in Parliament, Mrs Hanna Martin argued that the fine was too high and urged the government to revisit the provision requiring motorists to produce proof of insurance immediately. She said given the prevalence of car theft in the country, this would give the upper hand to would be criminals.
Additionally, she criticised the government for failing to enact legislation drafted by the former Christie administration, adding the Minnis administration chose to use certain part of it.
She said: “My sentiments are not simply politics but genuine disappointment.
“What we do see here today, by and large, is that provisions have been pulled out, here and there, from that draft Bill, which they have been sitting on for the last two years.
“The question that has to be asked, is this administration playing games with the lives of the Bahamian people coming into this Parliament on the proverbial white horse claiming to be introducing this legislation as a commitment to road safety?
“Even if this government did not accept aspects of the policies driving the Bill, certainly the Bill must have provided a solid foundation for reform; after all this time should we have not seen some appropriate version brought forward.
“The draft Bill addressed this vexing issue specifically provided for prison sentences of up to 10 years and disqualification of driver’s licence to replace the current minimal penalties in place for causing death,” Mrs Hanna Martin also said.
“Why are we not debating amendments to this end today?” she also asked
Mrs Hanna Martin said other reforms in that draft Bill includes the creation of a National Road Safety Council, an important policy position to provide oversight of road safety initiatives for the prevention of fatalities.