Friday, May 6, 2016

The Fast and the Feckless

Like most motorists I was shocked to learn that I can now be fined $1000 for going over the speed limit. Since when do we have a speed limit? I do always see some signs along the highway that say ‘Speed Limit 80kph’. But, being Trinbagonian, I thought that was just a casual recommendation and not a law. Like ‘no driving on the shoulder’ or ‘no parking in the handicap zone’ or ‘no riding the leather-back turtle’. For the first time, traffic police will be enforcing the speed limit using sophisticated speed guns. Yes, we have traffic police now.

 Naturally, this hasn’t gone down well with some people. Driving at 80kph is simply too slow they say. It’s a fine speed to drive at if you want to watch a car accident, but it’s annoying otherwise. Driving at slower speeds may help save your life, but what’s the point of living if it’s going to take a whole hour to get from Chaguanas to Grand Bazaar? Plus, in a country where you can spend hours in line at the bank, wait months to get your passport renewed, or spend ten years in remand yard waiting to have a trial; being able to speed on the highway is a bit of a luxury.

The authorities though, may have a valid reason for introducing speed guns to crack down on speed limit breakers. And not just because playing with laser speed guns seems really cool. According to ‘Arrive Alive’, there were 147 road fatalities last year alone. The vast bulk of these fatalities occurred on three highways; the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, the Uriah Butler Highway and the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway. At least 60 of these victims were between the ages of 15 to 34. As of April of this year, there are already 47 road fatalities; a 21% increase. Forget Facebook, dancehall music or homosexuality; our highways are what is destroying the nation’s youth.

Advocates for reduced speed limits point to the obvious benefits it brings. Drivers going slower have more response time in an emergency.  They can better avoid serious accidents. Studies suggest that driving at a slower speed can significantly improve your chances of survival in the event of a car accident. Though admittedly it may also increase your chances of getting robbed on the Beetham.

Slower speeds also mean increased fuel efficiency and decreased CO2 emissions. It may not sound like much, but nationally it adds up to reductions in air pollution and savings on fuel, which is what motivated countries like the USA to impose speed limits in the first place; to reduce dependency on foreign oil. And we all know T&T needs to watch its gas money right now.

A report by researchers Lee Friedman, Donald Hedeker, and Elihu D. Richter entitled, ‘Long Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum Speed Limit in the United States’, found that lifting the federal speed limit of 55mph in 1995 was responsible for 12,545 deaths between 1995 and 2005-more US fatalities than 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  Instead of waging Jihad against the US, Osama Bin Laden would have been better off financing more ‘Fast and Furious’ movies.

This though doesn’t mean that there isn’t a valid argument for raising our speed limit. After all, speed isn’t the only factor in road safety. There are also road condition, the safety of cars, and moron drivers who think they are Vin Diesel. Last week I got into a minor accident when someone hit me from behind. The driver, who was apologetic, told me he was only driving recklessly because he was, “going to blaze a thing in Chase Village.” I had to try and calmly tell him that my insurance doesn’t cover that.

Recently a group calling themselves ‘Safe drivers for Efficiency’ launched an online petition calling for the Ministry of Transport to raise the speed limit from 80kph to 120kph, with lower variable limits at intersections. They say that most drivers already drive safely within these speed ranges and therefore it makes reasonable sense to simply legalize it. Of course appealing to a government department for reasonable sense is a surefire way for them to ignore you.

But perhaps motorists alarmed over the new speed limit enforcement should calm down. Recent news reports suggest that the new guns  are not even in the country. And given the level of efficiency that the T&T Police service is famous for, it remains to be seen how well they will even be deployed.  The speed of some things in T&T will never change.

No comments: