Last week the Attorney General moved a 49-clause bill that substantially overhauls the 1935 Motor Vehicles & Road Traffic Act. The legislation aims to establish some 100 modern driving offences and improve efficiency of traffic violation enforcement, including legalising red-light cameras, fixed tickets, and a system of licence demerits (points). As he does with all his bills, Mr. Al Rawi praised this one’s thoughtful and careful drafting. But Senator Dhan Mahabir quickly made fun of the $750 penalty for an improperly attired taxi driver.
I have long criticised our niggling, pedantic approach to traffic enforcement. Our obsession with the idea of imposing rules—which influential people simply evade. Instead, I’ve advocated more commonsense approaches to driving violations, arguing that much of our driving is an adaptation to too many cars on too few roads, and they ought to be embraced as organic innovations. For instance, why don’t we simply formalise the use of the shoulder during rush hours as a special lane, restricted to high-occupancy vehicles like taxis, or any vehicle with a driver with the skill to cut seamlessly back into the lane to the right.
Part of me, though, is so exhausted by our national culture of impatience on the road that I’m urging Parliament to make all forms of impatient driving an offence. Driving impatiently is far from a single offence. It has so many distinct local expressions, which we all know well, and many of us practise.
Here are a few key types of impatient driving offences that Mr. Al Rawi has unfortunately overlooked, and which I need either Sen. Mahabir or the eminently Oppositional Sen. Ramdeen to propose as amendments to the bill.
Yellow Fever. For many of us with foreign guests, our first local driving lesson to them is: In Trinidad & Tobago, a yellow light means speed up. Red-light cameras ought to be able to detect acceleration. So fine those motorists who catch the light before it changes red as well.
- Follow De Leader. It isn’t just one driver who decides she can still follow the cars ahead, even though the traffic light has turned red. It’s often two or three, each one deciding: if she can, so can I. Let’s double the fine for every successive light-breaker.
- De Both Ah Dem. This is the offence that most easily induces road rage on my part. It’s the driver who can’t make up his mind which lane is likely to move faster, so he straddles both until it becomes clear. This could also be called Hedging, but that involves a pun on prostrate and prostate.
- Rampin Cheater. The Diego Martin Highway special. Traffic on the highway has stopped at the light, or the light is about to change. So the clever speedster notices, and quickly gets into the off-ramp lane, so she can nip between the traffic on the cross-street, then back onto the on-ramp on the other side, leaving all the law-abiders seething in her exhaust.
- Yuh Have Spare Parts At Home? Stopping at a crosswalk is a discretion for the Trinb driver, a favour we in our killing machines do for a pedestrian—when it moves us. And, sadly, we need an even stiffer penalty for the driver who’s so determined not to stop, he swerves around the vehicle that has.
- Heavy T Bumper Jam. Speeding a loaded goods vehicle. Does this require any further elaboration? I think jail ought to be the punishment for the 18-wheeler that broke the Wrightson Rd light and barrelled into the path of my car.
- Yuh Sticking. This offence takes a few distinct forms. One is the driver behind you who pulls out you into the clear lane you were going just about to change into, before you even have a chance to. Moving To De Left. Another is the car behind you that overtakes you on the left before you can return safely to the left lane after overtaking. Jack Up De Back Bumper. A third is the truck that bears down on you when you’re driving in the right lane, and tailgates you with its high beams on, even when traffic prevents you from changing lanes. The moment an opportunity opens for you to move out of the lane, the driver swiftly executes one of the other versions of the offence.
- This Is Not An Emergency. Ah yes, the uniformed service members, whose inability to wait in line at the bank, or anywhere else, leads to emergency vehicles that routinely switch on their flashing lights and sirens the minute there’s the smallest traffic jam, then turn them off once the road is clear.
- Who Reach First, Pass First. And then there’s this. There’s no punishing this one, though. It’s the wonderful hallmark of national driving. The game of rushing to see who will get through the single clear pathway on our many narrow streets, no matter whose side the obstruction is on. And the endless flow of vehicles that follows the one that wins the game.