The merits of demerit

AFTER THREE years, during which more than 254 people died in traffic accidents, the demerit points system outlined in the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic (Amendment) Act of 2017 is finally here. Better late than never. For sure, the system is hardly a cure-all. Neither was the much-touted breathalyser. Nor the introduction of speed guns. But all of these measures, individually and collectively, have made and will make a big difference.

Firstly, they send the appropriate signal. Secondly, when combined with the proper infrastructure they can reshape our road safety culture. This is particularly the case with the new system, which encourages drivers to adopt long-term thinking. That’s more effective than being slapped with a ticket every now and again.

While a few drivers have said they are confused by the rules – a confusion deepened by the regrettable but somewhat unavoidable delays to implementation – the points all add up to a simple: be responsible.

The system, as outlined, is at once flexible and inflexible. New drivers (people holding permits for less than a year) are treated separately, though not less severely. More experienced drivers face disqualification lasting different terms, depending on how badly they’ve scored. All, though, are given a chance to show cause, assuming they have valid reasons why they should not be sanctioned.

Furthermore, the system is designed to afford a degree of flexibility on the part of the State. If the minister is minded to, she or he may prescribe the award of “double points” from time to time, such as during festive seasons like Christmas and Easter. If these powers are used, the system rigorously enforced, and drivers take heed, perhaps the days when every holiday period is marred by tragic road fatalities will become a thing of the past.

As at May 11, there have been 44 road fatalities for the year, according to figures held by the Arrive Alive lobby group. The nationwide lockdown due to covid19 has undoubtedly reduced the figures with gatherings, particularly at popular drinking spots, being discouraged.

It turns out the State’s timing, delays and all, is impeccable. Implementing the rules now gives citizens a chance to ease into the regulations as they ease back into working life. What needs to happen, though, is a consistent effort at enforcement, seeing that police monitoring is key to how violations are detected, absent new camera technology.

That does not, however, absolve the State from its responsibility to keep these rules under review, particularly the details spelled out in the Ninth Schedule relating to fines and to the allocation of points. Too often do we introduce new laws without reflecting on them.

Meanwhile, stakeholders, such as Arrive Alive’s Sharon Inglefield, continue to call, with good cause, for better road barriers. And the red-light camera system remains outstanding. But, overall, we’re getting there.


"The merits of demerit"

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