By Elesha George
Law enforcement officers and other essential workers like emergency medical services personnel and ambulance operators are exempt from following the new hands-free road law, at least when on duty.
On Wednesday, Head of Traffic, Superintendent of Police Elson Quammie and Acting Commissioner of Police, Atlee Rodney both confirmed that essential workers, particularly police officers, are exempt from the amendments to the Vehicle and Road Traffic Act that would have motorists ticketed for driving and using a mobile phone or other devices that cause distraction.
Once caught, these drivers will be ticked a fixed fine of $500.
“When legislations are made, they always make provisions for essential services and you have, for instance, the seatbelt law, you will find that there are exemptions for emergency officers: fire, ambulance, [and] police, when it comes to the strictness of the seatbelt. The same thing applies with the cellular phone,” the Acting Commissioner explained.
Superintendent Quammie said once police officers are driving a police issued vehicle they are exempt, explaining “that the officer might be on a report, very serious report, and he has to respond to that report and while responding he has to use his cellphone to take further information so the police service vehicles are exempted so to speak”.
If, however police officers are using their personal vehicles or, in other words, are off-duty, they are expected to adhere to the road rules.
While the superintendent could not present an immediate remedy when asked why police vehicles could not be retrofitted with hands-free devices, he did warn that any abuse of the new law would be met with harsh disciplinary action.
Quammie stated that any police officer found to be profiting personally from the amendment, is guilty of corruption, touting that “if any officer engages in that, they will be dismissed from the royal police force”.
He said the public must accept that driving is a “full time responsibility”, noting that “there are too many accidents and accidents are a financial strain and also a health strain and those pieces of legislation and those regulations are not to penalise persons but to prevent persons from having accidents”.
Once ticketed under the new traffic law,persons have up to 10 days to pay the fine at the Magistrates Court in Gray’s Farm.
The initial regulations (which spoke of a $1,000 fine) made the act of driving while distracted a summary offence, where a police officer would take the name and address of offenders and inform them that they’d be reported for driving and holding or using a handheld device or any other form of obstruction. The amendment now makes it a ticketed offence with a fixed penalty of $500.
If persons fail to make payment within that time, a period of 21 days is allotted where they can contest the ticket issued to them. After the 21 days period, the ticket automatically becomes a warrant for arrest and the ticketed persons may be imprisoned.