It is often said that making laws is easy but enforcing them is the difficult part. That is true in general but where there is a will, there is usually a way. Where there is no will (and limited resources), the lack of enforcement has the effect of making laws near useless. It is not enough to say that you have a law, just for the sake of having a law. If there is no serious effort to ensure that people and entities are compliant with the law, then the law is nothing but ink on a piece of paper.
The whole concept of the effectiveness of laws and their relationship with enforcement and compliance came to mind when we read of the call to lower the speed limit in Antigua & Barbuda. The head of the Traffic Department, Superintendent Leonard Cabral, indicated his support of the Pan American Health Organisation’s (PAHO) call for Caribbean countries to legislate lower speed limits.
According to PAHO, 17 countries in the Americas have already set maximum speed limits of less than 50 kilometres per hour, and the body has suggested that more countries should follow suit, as doing so would be key to saving lives. PAHO made it clear, however, that in order to be effective and save lives, the laws on speed limits must be accompanied by strict compliance.
On the face of it, the logic seems sound and we assume that the decision is based on some well reasoned analysis of years of statistics. That may be true of some of the 17 countries that have adopted lower speed limits but we are going to go out on a limb and say that it is unlikely that statistics are the driving force behind these proposed changes in Antigua & Barbuda. Very often, statistics gathering and analysis are subject areas where we seem to consistently fail. And, we haven’t even touched on voluntary compliance to our laws because the problem is that compliance, very often, only comes from rigorous enforcement.
In throwing his weight behind PAHO’s recommendation, Superintendent Cabral said, “Our highest speed is 40 miles [per hour] which is 62 kilometers [per hour], so I believe that the government of Antigua & Barbuda should follow suit with this initiative. This will ease some of the accidents because most are caused by speeding. Even if the speed limit is 62 kilometers, motorists still [exceed] it, especially younger ones.”
This leads us to ask the obvious question: is the speed limit the problem or is speeding the problem? What percentage of serious accidents occur when vehicles are being operated under or at the current speed limits? That, of course, leads us to this next question: if we were to enforce the current speed limits, what would be the effect on the accident rate; especially those that fall into the category of serious?
We support anything that will improve safety on our roads and save lives but lowering the speed limit and still allowing motorists to speed with near impunity seems to be ‘spinning top in mud’. Superintendent Cabral stated that the traffic department is “sometimes on the road with our radar guns” and issuing $200 speeding tickets, but we would love to know some statistics on the deployment and success rates. We are going to ask this next question almost rhetorically but we will do so for the record. Does the traffic department have adequate resources that will allow it to effectively police the speed limits in Antigua & Barbuda?
We are fairly sure that had we asked that question directly to Cabral, we would have heard some level of frustration, in the same way that we heard it from the President of the Antigua & Barbuda Road Safety Group Inc. (ABRSGI), Alice Ho-Tack. She said, “The road safety group has been working for the past seven years with no support and it’s really disappointing that it is not getting the support from the government.”
From our point of view, there is no evidence to suggest that lowering the speed limit will make any impact on the current situation. The first logical step seems to be education and a solid effort to begin enforcement of the speed limits that already exist. Then, based on the results of those actions, we can determine if the speed limits need any type of modification.
Charging full speed towards lowering the speed limits in our bit of paradise would seem to be little more than an exercise in futility if there are no changes to the support for the Traffic Department and organisations like ABRSGI. They appear to be in the best position to make the biggest difference if given the tools to do what they have to and can do.
If you are not yet convinced, you can equate this to littering. The scourge of littering persists in this land of ours because of a lack of social pride and the lack of serious enforcement of the existing laws. We could double or triple the number of laws related to littering and the consequences and there would likely be no change to people’s behaviour. Until there are consequences there will be no change; it is part of our “do as you like” culture.
So, we would like to suggest that if we are going to put ink to paper in order to make any changes to what obtains on our roads, first add a few dollars to the budget for road safety and law enforcement.
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