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Salaam: Can we stop T&T drivers from speeding to their deaths?

Eleven million dollars in six months! I could only shake my head in disbelief.

That’s how much money drivers speeding on the nation’s highways have already contributed to Government’s coffers. And I think it is a safe bet that that figure will go up and not down in the second half of the year and, in particular, at Christmas time—when for some reason everybody and he brother and sister hurry hurry to reach wherever they going, police or no police, speed trap or no speed trap.

Photo: An ambulance arrives at the scene of a car accident.

I am on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway and making my way carefully—well below the speed limit—past the police speed trap set up near the Oropune Walkover. The Walkover is hardly behind me when the cars begin to zoom past. Really now! These people simply do not intend to slow down.

The following day, an 18-year-old driving a high-end vehicle, a Mercedes Benz, I think, is killed on the highway. And I sit down and give some serious thought to what can be done to make the regulatory system for motor vehicle drivers in Trinidad and Tobago truly effective in terms of safety and saving lives.

So let us begin by taking a little look at a different country, Canada, and what exists there. I can’t cite any figures to support my case but I don’t think Canada has better drivers than T&T or that they don’t have their fair share of road hogs and road rage.

What I know for certain is that there are clear rules and regulations, strict standards and procedure and much more discipline and self-restraint on the roads than we have here.

For example, the Canadian equivalent of our learner’s permit is the G1. Learners must practise with their G1 license for a minimum of 12 months and must be accompanied by a fully licensed driver with at least four years’ experience. The learner must maintain a zero blood alcohol level and the accompanying driver must do likewise if (s)he is under the age of 21.

Photo: A young driver (left) receives instructions from a tutor.
(Copyright Drtraffic.com.au)

Additionally, learners are not permitted to drive between the hours of midnight and 5am and are required to ensure that every passenger in the vehicle is wearing a properly functioning seatbelt.

There is more. To the ‘wetmen’ who can’t wait to get behind the wheel of their new roll-on roll-off Tiida, Canada says, “Hold your horses.” The G1 road test is only the first of two tests learners need to take to become a licensed driver.

The first test is a regulations test along with a test of basic driving skills. This is followed, after at least 12 months, by a road test with a G1 license. Your G2 license is earned only after you have passed this second road test.

Now, T&T and Canada are chalk and cheese. I am certain that, in a country where the after-work lime on the Coffee, on the Avenue, by the Dial or on Busy Corner is a staple, there will be massive objections to any attempt to institute similar arrangements. But that should not stop us from trying.

Additionally, I want to suggest, a Government-approved defensive driving course should be mandatory for all new applicants for driving permits of any class. Of course, the likelihood is that people will eventually be able to purchase these certificates in the way they now merely walk into the stations set up to test vehicle roadworthiness and pay for the required sticker.

Photo: Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

But, like the politicians into whose hands we entrust the nation’s reins, I have no suggestions for stamping out corruption.

That brings us, I think, to the need to strive to get into the Trini psyche to understand his behaviour and what makes him behave with such hostility and aggressiveness when he sits down behind that steering wheel. The ways in which people develop, I read somewhere, are shaped by social experience and circumstances within the context of their inherited genetic potential. I get that. 

Each person is born into a social and cultural setting—family, community, social class, religion—and eventually develops many social connections which are determined by that setting. What happens, I think, is that, when they operate a motor vehicle, many people are guided not so much by what they were taught when they were learning to drive as by what they learned when they were growing up.

In short, the way people behave when they drive is conditioned not by the elements of their driving instructor’s tuition but by the deep-seated habits of their individual acculturation.

And in Trinidad, the effective law is what you can get away with. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the driving habits of our citizens reflect gross indiscipline.

As does, to some extent, the behaviour of our government. Is there not something surprising, not to say corrupt, about the government’s response to the continuing call for an increase in the speed limit?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (centre) speaks in Parliament flanked by acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.. The country’s fate, the behaviour of many suggests, is in their hands. (Copyright Parliament.Org)

Despite the continuing carnage on the nation’s roadways with drivers, passengers and pedestrians losing their lives, the official response has not been a categorical “No way!” but a more-than-surprising “We are looking at the feasibility.”

Frankly, I am in the opposite camp from those who continue to clamour for a speed limit increase. As far as I am concerned, if anything has to be increased, it must be the fines levied on those who refuse to comply with the law as it stands. Those who won’t hear, my grandmother used to say, have to feel. So if the speed lovers are deaf to the pleas of the authorities, the authorities must hit them where it really hurts.

In the pockets. But even that may not have the deterrent effect one hopes it might have.

After all, currently, I am told, the DUI sanction can include fines that get up as high as thousands of dollars and suspension of one’s driving permit. Which rational person would, hearing the voice of his driving instructor like Shadow’s Bassman in his head, get into a motor vehicle after just having consumed a six-pack of Carib or Stag or a bottle of rum or babash?

You would think that, in this guava season, somebody would have to be either drunk or ‘steering’ mad to take that chance.

But $11m in six months leaves little doubt as to where, as a nation of drivers, we really stand on this issue.

Photo: A USA lawman uses a speed gun.

About Salaah Inniss

Salaah Inniss
Salaah Inniss is an ardent writer with an enthusiasm for bringing insightful views on national issues. He graduated from Cipriani College in Environmental Management, and is presently working in the Integrated Facilities Building Service Industry. He is an empathetic supporter of conservation and the protection of the environment.

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25 comments

  1. Defensive driving certification shouldn’t be a requirement for obtaining a license, defensive driving skills should be taught in regular driving theory and practicals. The author probably doesn’t drive very long distances very often. What I would like is a reliable, safe and better networked public transport system that gives drivers who routinely traverse long routes an option to take a break from the pressure of driving at snails’ pace and risking falling asleep at the wheel.

  2. Foreigners are tickled by the fact that during the T&T driving test, you are not supposed to exceed a speed of 40 km/hr yet the speed limit on the highway is 80. It’s a valid concern – drivers should be competent to handle a vehicle at the speed they are likely to be driving at – our driving test is clearly outdated in terms of how it caters for speed skill. Obviously whoever set that (and reviews it?) does not consider the fact that you cannot drive below 60 on the highway without subjecting yourself to all kinds of experts swerving in and out of lanes to get around you. A lot of experienced drivers tend to be reckless, over-confident and they assume everyone has their skill level (or get out of the way, right?!), forgetting there are novices on the road – we could learn something from the Canadian system. This does not necessarily have anything to do with the actual speed limit. Driving under the speed limit is not guaranteed to keep you safe. Driving defensively (no matter what speed you choose to drive at) is more likely to benefit you if you don’t want to be a victim of another driver’s irresponsible behaviour. Defensive driving certification is not a requirement for a license to drive and it should be.

  3. Create death strips along all the highways. Inform drivers ” who wants to die today, pay a toll and enter the death strip of choice” story done

  4. The best suggestion i have seen so far

  5. I know people who had to do a defensive driving course and some of them are the worst drivers it have the answer is better policing

  6. If I had my way I would have police on the road 24/7 raking in the millions.

  7. In a society which has no regard for time, speeding will always be a factor. Where all that is required to resolve anything is “prayers” we will continue to survive (not live) by vaps. No planning skills, no time management skills, always late always in a rush, and is usually to lime. Ent God is a Trini?

  8. Maybe prevention is best method with more police on the roads especially highways patrolling or having speed tests both day and night. Observed that majority of drivers are better behaved observing speed limits when there are police cars around.

  9. NO. Trinidadians love to die…

  10. Raise gas prices… That’ll help.

  11. I have found that I get better had mileage if I do not speed. Also I can avoid most of the stupidness on the road because I have more time to react.

  12. What’s the DeAth rate since ?

  13. Unfortunately a tree or lamp post.

  14. You Can’t Stop Stupid/Really,

  15. I’ll admit that I couldn’t read the entire article at this time, so I’m only going to comment on the piece I was able to read:

    I think the Canadian regulations are great, but from what I remember, they don’t differ all that much in many regards from what we have here. Potential drivers are required to get learner’s permits, which also set limitations on how and when they can drive. You then have to pass a regulations test, and it’s only in passing this that you get a date to do your driver’s (road) test. This sounds very similar to what the author described in Canada. I thought he was going to hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the possibility of being able to pay for a defensive driving certificate, but he simply used the example of paying for the vehicle inspection ticket. He should have spoken of the rampant corruption in the licensing office- corruption that actively renders the rules moot; corruption that allows for people to purchase a driver’s permit or otherwise bypass the rules that were set in place for everyone’s benefit. Trinidad by and large has the laws, has the regulations. We’re not a lawless society at all. We simply don’t care about the law, and those tasked with enforcing them, don’t.

    • Excellent point La Toya. I have said this before. It is not so much that Trinidad and Tobago needs new laws as we need to obey the laws that we have at present!
      I sympathise with Salaah in that his arguments have merit. But unless we make a cultural change towards obeying the law, we would end up right back here anyway.

    • I have to make time to finish the article, though, so I can appreciate his other points as well. I just found that his use of that example of the Canadian process for getting a permit was not completely valid. We also have a process here, a similar process that WOULD reap benefits if only it was administered properly. I know someone who turned 17 in September and had a driver’s permit by November. I also know someone who did his road test in and got licensed to drive automatic vehicles only, and blithely informed me that he’d simply pay some money and get it changed to a license to drive manual vehicles. Those are not example of a system that’s working well. It’s easy to think that we don’t have regulations in place when you see things like this happening

    • We don’t need another country’s rules and regulations, we need to obey ours and eliminate the corruption. I’m not in agreement with the mandatory defensive driving because not every household can afford the cost. We have reputable defensive driving courses that is applicable for a deduction for our motor insurance. When I hear Government approved I hear corruption, nepotism and opportunities for friends of the ruling party.

    • I am not opposed to mandatory defensive driving courses- once it’s administered properly. It cannot be turned into an opportunity for rampant profiteering. But I have little hope that it wouldn’t. A driver’s permit is a privilege, and it’s not a cheap privilege to obtain. If people want it and need it, they’ll find a way to afford it. As it stands currently, the course isn’t even all that expensive.

      I don’t think that’s the answer, though.

    • La Toya Hart I agree with your views. Canada’s speed limits don’t differ that much from ours. In New Brunswick they are exactly the same as TT and drivers were happily driving within the limits. We follow the Canadian business laws system here so I see no reason why in our attempts to improve our driving/road laws we cannot use Canada as a template as well. I’m a huge advocate for mandatory defensive driving courses as part of the driver’s license requirement. I’ve done this myself years ago and it was very effective in changing my way of thinking. But I would also say that no matter what we do we must embark on a programme to change our cultural thinking in this area. In order to break our bad habits TTPS must commit to regular presence at all times on highways, after parties, on weekends etc to stop drivers to do breathalyzer tests and issue speeding fines. The average bad habit takes 3-6 months of reconditioning. We cannot simply tell drivers to stop drinking and driving or spending and expect cultural change.

    • Earl Best

      And isn’t that, La Toya, precisely what makes us lawless? Lawless is not not having laws; it’s recklessly ignoring such laws as do exist.