House debates establishing vehicular manslaughter

The Minnis administration is looking to lengthen jail time and toughen fines for traffic offenses for people who kill while driving dangerously or recklessly.

Minister of Transport Renward Wells said the bill will crush the perception that traffic fatalities do not deserve stiff penalties.

“These amendments in this bill seek to…remove the perception that road deaths as a result of reckless driving are a less important family of killings or the taking of human life,” he said.

Wells added, “The perception that a roadway offense if of a lesser variety to other intentional killings is supported now in law by the lesser penalties imposed by the law for the conviction of that offense as compared to other homicide offenses.”

The Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2019 seeks to increase penalties for people convicted of killing in the course of dangerous or reckless driving that could result in prison sentences of up to 15 years for offenders.

The bill changes the name of the offense to “vehicular manslaughter” and allots new maximum prison times for various scenarios.

The bill says a person convicted of vehicular

manslaughter by dangerous driving would be liable to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Currently, the penalty for manslaughter by dangerous driving is a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000, or imprisonment for a term of four years; or both.

The bill states that a person convicted of vehicular manslaughter by careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The bill also provides that a person who is convicted of vehicular manslaughter by careless driving while driving without a valid license, or driving an uninsured vehicle, or allowing a passenger to ride in the vehicle without wearing a seat belt, could face up to five years in prison.

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said the changes to the law are long overdue.

“The purpose of today’s amendments is to make it clear to all operators of motorized transport that this government takes seriously the killing of an individual due to reckless or dangerous driving, as it does other killings,” he said in his contribution to the debate.

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said while the opposition supports the bill, his side feels there needs to be a more comprehensive approach.

“We feel that the approach could be broader in scope and we feel it should be accompanied by a more robust overhaul of the Road Traffic Act,” he said.

Cooper said a significant percentage of drivers do not have vehicle insurance.

“I am advised by the Bahamas Insurance Association that more than 30 percent of drivers do not have motor insurance, notwithstanding that it is the law to do so.”

He also said a greater emphasis must be placed on policing road traffic laws.

“What I lament is that there is not a greater emphasis on enforcement of the many bills and the many laws that have been passed,” he said.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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