Manage Traffic & Manage The Country
Today, traffic in Trinidad & Tobago has become synonymous with carnage and congestion.
But traffic is, and means, so much more. Traffic impacts every citizen every day. You can learn much about the state of a nation by looking at the behaviour of its citizens on its roads.
That our citizens routinely break red lights, speed excessively, drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, drive on the shoulders, or on the bus route without the necessary permission... speaks to a problem that is much deeper rooted than traffic. It is a reflection of a lack of discipline within, and the breakdown of every aspect of, our society.
Efficient and effective traffic management is a fundamental aspect of any well-run and organised society.
What exactly is an efficient and effective traffic management system? It is a system comprising three fundamental functions: engineering, education and enforcement.
Engineering denotes the infrastructure to accommodate the need for travel: the use of privately owned vehicles, public transportation via land, sea, or air, adequate parking facilities, well-planned and maintained roads, traffic signs, a system that enables the ready capture, retrieval and sharing of information, and so much more.
Citizens must be thoroughly educated on the laws of the roads, the consequences of poor driving decisions, and should be trained in all aspects of defensive driving.
Last and arguably most important is enforcement. This requires proper legislation, proactive policing and a functional judiciary. Correctly executed, proper enforcement ensures that there are significant consequences for poor decisions which lead to breaches of the law. Moreover, visible enforcement ultimately serves more as a preventative rather than a punitive measure.
Efficient and effective traffic management will positively impact:
- Crashes and carnage
- Crime and criminal activity
- Economic activity, productivity and efficiency
- The mental state of citizens
- The quality of family life
Crashes and carnage occur for the most part because of human indiscretion and a clear lack of discipline. In T&T, this is perpetuated by the perceived lack of punishment for infractions. The major contributors to crashes and road carnage internationally are speed and alcohol. Our enforcement agents have had no modern scientific means of measuring either speed through radar detection, or whether an individual is driving under the influence of alcohol through a breathalyzer system. It is therefore almost impossible to charge and successfully prosecute these transgressions.
The Point System is one where points are accumulated on one's driver's permit for various infractions. When a certain number of points are accumulated the individual's driving permit can be suspended or revoked. Legislation for this system was passed, first, in the Senate in December 1999, then, in the House of Representatives in May 2000 and was finally assented to law in July 2000. However, the regulation indicating the point of suspension or revocation is not yet complete - and so it cannot be enforced.
A significant number of our people who die on our nation's roads are ejected from the vehicle involved in the crash. It is law that the driver and front seat passengers wear seatbelts (the law should apply to everywhere in a vehicle there is a seatbelt!). Breach of this law however, is not a ticketable offense. The Officer has to take the offender's information, hope that it is correct (he/she has no way of verifying), then prepare a summons.
THE PRIMARY CONTRIBUTOR TO CRASHES AND CARNAGE IN TRINIDAD & TOBAGO IS THE LACK OF TRAFFIC LAW ENFORCEMENT.
There are many good, committed, willing, and upstanding law enforcement agents in this country - but their hands are tied. The right breathalyzer, radar gun, seatbelt, and point system legislation and infrastructure will allow them to effectively enforce the laws on our roads, saving lives, preserving lifestyles, and instilling a level of discipline in our society that will transcend traffic.
Efficient and effective traffic management can act as an interdiction to crime and criminal activity that goes beyond traffic offences. Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, serial killers the Son of Sam and Ted Bundy, and T&T's Dennis Davidson all had one thing in common - they were arrested after being stopped for minor traffic violations. Officers in London recently discovered a car packed with explosives when it was being ticketed by a Traffic warden for being illegally parked.
Drugs must be transported. Guns must be transported. Kidnap victims must be transported. Criminals must travel to commit crime. Proactive policing and strong police visibility and presence will have an immediate, significant and positive impact on crime, criminal activity and will greatly assist in the apprehension of criminal elements within Trinidad and Tobago.
The impact of inefficient and ineffective traffic management on economic activity, productivity and efficiency is manifold. A delivery truck that would have made 20 deliveries in one day five years ago, is today only able to make 10-15 deliveries in the same period. This represents a staggering 25-50% decrease in distribution capability.
Unlike the distribution company that perhaps can hire more people and employ more trucks to maintain a certain level of productivity and income, the taxi driver is condemned to either make fewer trips and earn less money or work longer hours to make the same amount of money he or she made five years ago.
Today we all pay higher insurance premiums, in large part because inefficient and ineffective traffic management results in more liability payments to crash and carnage victims. The failures of our system contribute to inefficiencies in our public utility companies and strain our health sector, financially and otherwise.
The bottom line: Efficient and effective traffic management will save and earn the private sector and the country many, many millions of dollars each year.
Road Rage is not confined to the road - your journey into work can (and usually does) set the tone for your day, and your ability to perform at work. Your journey home can influence how you relate to loved ones there. People who left home at 7:00 a.m. to get to work at 8:00 a.m. a few years ago now leave at 5:00 a.m. They return at 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. Quality time with family and loved ones is compromised. Efficient and effective traffic management will positively impact the mental state of our people and improve the quality of life.
Of the three Es, Engineering, Education, and Enforcement, engineering will take the longest to achieve simply because of the nature of what needs to be done. Education, of which awareness is a part, is readily available and accessible. It is, for the most part, already understood. But what is known is not practiced, because of the third E... ENFORCEMENT, or in the case of T&T LACK of ENFORCEMENT.
The good news is that the enforcement aspect of Traffic Management can be transformed in just 12 to 18 months. This would involve automating the License Office of the Transport Division, Traffic Branch, and Traffic Court. These divisions could then be linked so that the database is shared among these entities and additionally, with insurance companies. The next steps are training of personnel in the new systems and the processes and training police and transport officers in quality and customer service - and we absolutely must clean and upgrade the work places of those responsible for enforcement as well as immediately review their compensation. Simultaneously, we must ensure that the right legislation and penalties are put in place.
ARRIVE ALIVE has taken on the challenge of Transforming Traffic Management in T&T. We have been lobbying for the implementation of legislation and penalties. At the same time, and with the support of the private sector, we have trained more than 300 traffic police officers in quality and customer service, trained a number of police officers in breathalyzer technology, installed PBX telephone systems at the Traffic Branch and a division of License Office, thoroughly cleaned the Traffic Branch (of all of our activities this generated the highest level appreciation!), and continue to support the enforcement officers in road exercises.
We know that, with on-going and much more active and aggressive support from the private sector and private citizens, the transformation of traffic management in T&T can be realized in 12-18 months. But private sector and private citizens must invest in (financially and otherwise), and become vested in, this transformation. We, after all, are the ones who will benefit the most from a safer, more productive, and more efficient country. This will translate into a wealthier society enjoying better quality of life.
Published in T&T Chamber of Commerce Contact Magazine & T&T Review