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2004-05-20 08:30:27

Cabinet Reconsidering Seat Belt Fines

With the seat belt law expected to be fully enforced on May 20, Cabinet is now reconsidering the hefty $300 fine imposed on drivers for breaking the law.

"There are compelling arguments on both sides, but I can tell you that, from what I am gathering, our fines are higher than most jurisdictions, but are consistent with those jurisdictions in the Caribbean," the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Glenys Hanna-Martin explained in a telephone interview with The Guardian.

Section 42A, Chapter 220 of the Road Traffic Act states that all vehicles shall be fitted with seat belts. Those vehicles exempted from the law include: Tractors, motorcycles, omnibuses, except front passengers and drivers, vehicles designed for the physically or medically handicapped or disabled, cars manufactured before 1986 and trucks manufactured before 1972. As of May 20 (Thursday), drivers found not wearing seat belts would be fined $300. Passengers would be fined $100 and children under the age of 12 would be fined $500. All fines would be levied against the driver as the one responsible for all passengers in the vehicle. On Thursday, officers from the Royal Bahamas Police Force are expected to be on the streets of The Bahamas in full force, cracking down on motorists and passengers who fail to buckle up.

Meanwhile, heads of the taxicab union expressed concern about the proposed seat belt law last week Sunday. They claimed that, like jitney operators, they too should be exempted from the law. President of the taxi cab union Leon Griffin repeated on a radio talk show last week Sunday that the government had presented a "sad situation" to the Bahamian people by allowing the seat belt law to take effect at a time when the masses had not been consulted. He also gave an example how it might affect taxi drivers economically.

On the other hand, Mrs Hanna-Martin told The Guardian Monday that she had communicated with the President of the Union and he had put forth a "fairly strong case." She also mentioned that in her discussions with the Controller of the Road Traffic Department, Brensil Rolle, she was told that he had not come across any other jurisdictions that required taxi drivers to use seat belts or child safety seats. "The only thing we have come up with is for example in New York, there have been legislation requiring that seat belts be fitted, and there is a sign urging the passenger to use it, and there is no legal requirement that you must use it, but there is a requirement that you must have them fitted in your vehicle. That is the closest that we have come to any kind of requirement for taxi drivers or taxi vans. The matter is being considered right now by the Cabinet and a decision should be made very shortly," she said.

The seat belt law was initially passed in January 2002. However, the Ministry of Transport said certain sections of the law had to be reviewed, with respect to fines. Yet, two years later the fines remain the same, and the only change put in place was a conversion in weight of a child.

Tamara McKenzie, The Nassau Guardian 

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