After one false start followed by a delay, the Demerit Points and New Fixed Penalty Traffic Ticketing System is now in effect minus the Red Light Camera Enforcement System.
While yesterday’s introduction of the demerits system did not quite merit Minister Rohan Sinanan’s hyperbolic declaration of its launch as “a great day for Trinidad and Tobago”, it is a significant initiative towards uncluttering the court system of traffic offences and bringing greater efficiency and transparency in the enforcement of traffic laws.
Importantly, it places responsibility where it belongs—on motorists—to respect traffic laws or pay the consequence of having their drivers’ permits suspended for varying periods depending on their accumulation of demerit points. The promise being held out by the system is that it will change the driving culture of recklessness.
As of yesterday, every motorist would have entered the system with a clean slate of zero points. The task now is to ensure that each also knows that every breach of a traffic law not only earns them fines but demerit points which carry them closer to being disqualified from driving. In this way, it not only penalises motorists for their past action of breaking the law but serves as a warning that could prevent them from committing further breaches at the risk of losing their driving privileges. This is the point at which one would expect errant motorists to embrace the wisdom of complying with traffic laws and to break their personal culture of reckless driving. Given the T&T public’s well-known love for driving their own vehicles, the odds must be on change.
The Transport Ministry has not given a projection for any reduction of traffic offences, but one would assume that a cost benefit analysis was done ahead of the decision to invest in this new system, showing some measurable reduction in traffic offences and road deaths, say, two years from now, by May 2022.
The main weakness of the system is its reliance on police officers being on the spot to catch culprits. This opens up the question of whether the T&T Police Service has the human resource capacity for maintaining the system at the level required for achieving the projected change. For this, the past experience of speed guns should be recalled. Overnight, motorists switched to driving within the speed limit when police officers came out with the guns. However, as an increase in murders and other crimes took them away from traffic policing, the old motoring bad habits were resurrected.
The effectiveness of the new system is also being short-changed by the failure to bring on stream the camera enforcement system which was expected to be a powerful tool for keeping motorists in check, whether or not police patrols are out. The ministry has not explained the delay or indicated when it will be rolled out, but as possibly the most expensive element of the package, it may be subject to budget availability.
However, limited as the system may be, it is a step in the right direction. We urge the authorities to step up their public awareness programme to ensure that every motorist becomes alert to the changes that are now in effect.