Angry men on the roads


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 16 Apr 00

If I were a politician I would not try to gauge the mood of my countrymen and women by breaking bread with the upper crust, listening to yes-men and hangers on, or turning sods.


I would take leave of absence from cabinet or parliament and the White House, Balisier house or black tie lobbying group, and use my influence to get a license to ply a taxi for some weeks. But we all know no politician is going to give up his chauffeur driven leather seats to do what we must do for them.


As we inch forward we see a crowd of laughing, talking, animated people gathered at a cross section, and on the shoulder of the highway we spot a line of cars where they have parked. You turn to me and say: “Trinis are the bes’ yes! Partying on the highway! Don’t care if they cause a traffic jam.”


But as we go past we see that something is not quite right. We see the shape of a body covered up with a white sheet. We look up and see the laughter. We look down and see the covered face. It doesn’t tally somehow. We go home subdued and the next day we hear that a 17-year-old boy died on the highway. He didn’t have on his seatbelt. It appeared he lost control of the car. We witnessed a tragedy and thought it was a party.


Over the next few weeks, in our quest for “the Truth” we fasten our seat belts, keep to the slow lane, stop at red, go at green, indicate, follow rules, but to our astonishment we discover we are the outsiders - freaks among drivers.


Almost everyone else drives aimlessly from a stop sign onto a major road, overtakes on the shoulder, roars past red lights, weaves in and out of the slow and fast lanes, pushing us off the road. Sometimes we see a driver who has overtaken or sped past us, a few miles ahead, either dead or injured, his car crumpled like paper. Other times we see a stunned victim of a hit and run driver. The roads, highways, streets and alleys, we discover as the week goes by are a battlefield of losers where the baddest guys - the ones with the most brute force - win a war without a cause. In one week we spot at least a thousand traffic offences.


Some say the maxi taxi and taxi drivers are the worst because they are hustling a living, but the reckless rage with which they drive does little to ensure their living, and doesn’t save that much time either. They speed, zig-zag drive, stop abruptly on a major road to pick up passengers, turn without indicating, ignore all road signs, never give way to traffic when they’re supposed to. On several occasions they use foul language on us for protesting a bad-drive. After one such onslaught, we shut up remembering the time a taxi driver shot a man dead for criticising his driving.


Badly shaken by the end of our first week we take out our notebook and take stock:


·        There is anarchy on the streets of our country and utter lawlessness. Our people are very angry and quick to hurl abuse ;

·        Our roads are terrible; potholed, and pitted;

·        The laughing faces and covered body tell us that our desire to witness and partake of a spectacle no matter how sad or how gruesome is greater than our compassion;

·        The young boy not only broke the law by not wearing his seatbelt, he lost his life.


By the end of week two we give up. Shaken, and indignant, we head to the police station. We demand statistics:


·        Ninety per cent of accident victims and traffic offenders are men between the ages of 25-50. (This is an age group we associate with leadership, maturity. But perhaps men in this age group are far more violent, irresponsible, and susceptible to cheap machismo than we suspect)

·        In 1999 Police detected over 100,000 traffic offences and 181 people were killed in fatal accidents.

·        So far this year 48 accidents were fatal with 50 people killed. The majority were pedestrians due to inadequate zebra crossings.

·        Between Feb 29, and March 4, 2000 alone there were 1,324 detected traffic offenses out of which 362 were for speeding.

·        Although police suspect the majority of traffic offenses are committed because people were under the influence of drugs or alcohol they don’t have either the law or the equipment to prove it.

·        Our laws, when enforced are too lax on traffic offenders. Fines for speeding are a pittance.

·        Maxi taxi and taxi drivers are the worst offenders breaking every law from soliciting to speeding. But police say it is impossible to charge every offender since the courts are clogged up with as many as 400 traffic cases a day.


All observations including our interviews with the police were real. Only our drive was imaginary. We citizens of T&T humbly hand over our notebook to the politicians. But to think they are going to do anything about it, will only hurl us back into a world of make believe.


The truth in one sentence is not new: Men between the ages of 25-50 who own cars are so angry they are willing to break the law, die and kill for it. Why? That’s the riddle gentlemen.


Our police sources recommended the following:

·     Amending the law to limit and relegate a fixed number of taxis on the road in each district.

·     Toughen up the existing laws so offenders who skip court can be arrested and charged. Jack up fines. Suspend licenses of repeat offenders.

·     Introduce a breathalyser test and mandatory blood tests for people who are suspected to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

·     Allow tickets to be paid in every police station instead of the area where it was issued.

·     Introduce designated maxi taxi and taxi stops.

·     Improve conditions of the roads, which have deep drops and potholes, and create proper zebra crossings, and proper shoulders on which no vending or squatting should be allowed.

·     Fast-track traffic cases in court.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur