By Robert A. Emmanuel
A social media firestorm erupted from the suggestion made by Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph during a Parliamentary session on Tuesday, to ban the popular Toyota Vitz, but the Prime Minister took to Facebook to publicly state that there will be no banning of the vehicle.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne responded on both his personal and official government Facebook account, stating that, “There is NO BAN on Vitz vehicles. The Health Minister expressed concerns about the safety of those vehicles, and we recommend caution when driving with speed. Please note, there will be no such ban on these vehicles.”
The public debate about how to effectively reduce the number of vehicular accidents on the streets of Antigua and Barbuda kicked off in Parliament, during the debate of the 2019 Vehicle and Road Traffic Amendment Bill.
The Bill, which was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, was drafted to allow for the punishment of traffic offenders without the necessity of them making an appearance in court.
During the debate, Minister Joseph argued that a number of young people who drive the Toyota Vitz, frequently ended up in accidents and, by extension, the Mount Saint John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC).
In his remarks, he made the suggestion that the vehicle should be banned because it “constitutes a public health issue”.
After OBSERVER media and a number of other media houses reported on Joseph’s comments, many people began to lambaste him via social media and on OBSERVER’s Voice of the People.
“What should be considered is more police on the roads and insurance companies making it harder for certain age groups (especially the age group getting into these accidents) to own or them… again I don’t agree with the ban but something needs to be done,” said one user.
Another said, “So… the solution is to ban the Vitz and put reckless drivers in another car and hope that solves the problem??”
Some even went as far as to ask for an open forum with Minister Joseph on his comments and social media hashtags also followed, such as “#NoVitzNoVotes” and “#JusticeForVitz.”
OBSERVER media also took to the streets of St. John’s, and spoke to residents, many of whom argued that the car was not the problem.
“There are two things that cause accidents: impatience and alcohol,” said a male, who added that he believes that the government should look to be stricter with people who drink and drive.
“The main thing is the persons behind the wheel and because of the speed or power of the engine, it might encourage the drivers, especially if they like speed, but most of the accidents are coming from the drivers—careless driving; on their phone,” he said.
Another said that the issue was a cause for concern long before the arrival of the Toyota Vitz.
“They also go out to these fetes, drinking and smoking without a designated driver. Some people will take their time, when they drink, but the younger folks—and it is not all young folks—drink and smoke together and they just want to show off,” said another.
The citizens also argued that more education — especially for young drivers; increased police presence on the critical road networks, like All Saints Road; and the use of technology like the speed gun, were some of the solutions that government should think about implementing in order to solve the traffic accidents problem.