But it was the accompanying photograph that caught my attention. The caption read, “Donovan Sterling displays ‘a trailer load a traffic tickets’ that he had picked up and was trying to pay before the end of the traffic amnesty yesterday.” Mr. Sterling was smiling with his tickets; evidently happy to have his photograph taken. His tickets were said to stretch for 30 feet when laid in a row. The Gleaner story also described a certain boastfulness displayed by some of the public transport operators regarding the number of unpaid tickets they had amassed. I could imagine the conversation: “Ten ticket yu get? You nah sey nuttn, man! Is 35 mi get!”
When I took my driving test at 19 and after a five-minute road test, the instructor took me into an office alone and gave me a rambling speech about this driving test thing being a really simple matter. I was too naive to understand what he was getting at, so after many minutes of him specifying and me staring blankly at him, he told me I had failed the test. Older relatives later explained what was really going on. Then, during my years in insurance, I frequently dealt with claimants who could give no account of their driving test - they did not know what they had driven, which depot they had gone to, and they could answer not a single question of the written test. The solution back then was said to be privatization of the Island Traffic Authority, which, naturally, was never implemented. Now, I see the Minister of Transport and Works, the Hon. Mike Henry, suggesting that a merger of the ITA and the Transport Authority will fix the problem.
James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
We need to face what the recklessness on Jamaican roads really means and causes. It means we have no respect for one another, not even for our own safety. This is not a quirky aspect of our culture, not evidence of Jamaican manhood, not mere exuberance, not a charming display of our famous laid-backness. It means driving in Jamaica is outright dangerous, whether you are driver or passenger, in a private car, taxi or bus. It means we are angry or fearful or both whenever we use the roads, which can lead to confrontations and even violence on and off the roads. Pedestrians face particular risks – there are few places where they can get across roads safely. Drivers of public passenger vehicles display utter disregard for the rules of the road. Nice, straight roads encourage speeding – I’m not sure we’re ready for highways, really. Traffic tickets mean nothing – you don’t have to pay them on time, the points do not accumulate, licenses are not withdrawn no matter how egregious the offenses, avoiding a ticket entirely is easy once the right paperwork (wink, wink) is handed over, and if all else fails, just wait for the next amnesty. Car accidents happen everywhere in the world, but more people are killed and injured when other commonsense rules are not obeyed – like not overcrowding buses, not overtaking around corners, not leaving unlit vehicles on a dark road at right, keeping vehicles in proper repair. And while the deaths tend to be reported in the media, often using the same kind of grisly countdown that attends the murder rate, traffic accidents not only kill – they compromise livelihoods, disable people, ruin their lives, and burden the public health system.
The recklessness on our roads is a failure of law enforcement. This is what needs to be faced. While it is certainly true that too many Jamaicans drive badly, this behavior has not happened overnight – it has happened over many decades, because there have been no consequences. This must be the last traffic ticket amnesty ever offered and the problems with the enforcement system, including the associated corruption, must be fixed once and for all.