Road Traffic amendments pass in Senate
Senators debated and passed the Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2018, yesterday.
The bill will criminalize the use of cell phones and other electronic communication devices while driving, along with making it illegal to drive with open alcoholic beverages.
However, the bill states that if a cell phone is affixed to the vehicle and is enabled for hands-free use, it may be used.
Attorney General Carl Bethel said the bill was necessary to bring Bahamian road traffic laws into modernity.
“It is well known that someone texting is as incapacitated as someone blind drunk while driving a car,” he said.
“If you’re texting and driving, you may as well be blind drunk and utterly incapable of any function except perhaps to hold the wheel because it is a death sentence.
“There are so many persons around the world and even here in The Bahamas who have had serious accidents or worse while texting.
“So it really behooves the government, it behooves us as legislators to do what we can do to in a sense set the rule and standard in law. We know it’s common sense, don’t text while driving, but quite frankly in that moment we all do it.”
The bill will also make the failure of a driver to produce his or her name and address and the name and address of the owner of the motor vehicle or certificate of motor insurance in respect of that motor vehicle, a criminal offense.
It will also require the payment of outstanding fines in respect of traffic offenses before the granting of a driver’s license or a public service driver’s license.
“There are some weaknesses in the current law, which this amendment seeks to tighten up on,” Bethel said.
“The law as it presently stands is if you are asked for your license and don’t presently have it you automatically have 24 hours to take it to the nearest police station.
“So one of the things that this bill will do is to put the onus on the person to give their name, their physical address and convince the police that they ought not to be arrested for not driving with their driver’s license on them.”
Progressive Liberal Party Chairman (PLP) Fred Mitchell said that while the opposition broadly supports the bill, they had some concerns, including the need for stiffer penalties for people who kill in the course of dangerous driving.
“The penalty is not commensurate with what actually occurred,” Mitchell said.
“I’d like to offer an amendment which would reflect, I think, what is the seriousness of this matter.”
He proposed increased fines as well as a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years for people found guilty of killing in the course of dangerous driving. However, the proposed amendment was rejected.
He also raised concern over the ability of police to use their discretion in arresting people for not being able to produce their driver’s license upon request.
“I heard the rationale for the attorney general, and in some senses, it’s a distinction without a difference because we all know that it is subject to abuse,” he said.
“The best we can do at this point is to flag that, that this is not designed to harass people about producing their driver’s license, a right which people have in the existing legislation, which is now going to be truncated by this. So that is a concern for us on this side.
“We broadly support the amendments.”
Mitchell also called for greater public education on driving safety.
“If there’s anything that I would like to appeal to at this very moment, it is for the government and the police force and the Road Traffic Department to put additional resources into public education on this matter,” he said.
“And also, it seems to me that the training of people who drive, that also needs to be improved.”