The taxi, bus and lorry drivers' reaction to the amendment to the Road Traffic Act to introduce the penalty point system presented in parliament this week is surreal.
It goes something like this: since we are on the road more often than other road users, we should not be penalized for breaking the Highway Code and endangering other people's lives. And, if we continuously break the law and we have our licences suspended as a result, it would be unfair because we would no longer be able to make a living. Push the reasoning a little further and we would need no prisons in this country as inmates can no longer make a living and feed their families once they are locked up.
If ever there was a fi rst sign that immediately tells the visitor that we are in a third world country, it is undeniably the chaos on our roads. We can almost compete with the most disorderly third world capitals like Mumbai and Nairobi. So, the government fi nally took it into their hearts that it is necessary to introduce the demerit point system. That puts us on par with more developed countries. Do I, however, think it's going to solve our traffi c problems? No, I cannot quite bring myself to say that.
An average of over 10,000 drivers are booked every month. However, out of the 193,000 fi nes dished up last year, none was for undisciplined driving. When you exceed the speed limit on our roads, our cops go at you for king and country. Whether you are off the mark by one or 50 km, the fi ne is the same. And so is the sadistic smile on their faces as they hand out the ticket to you. That may fi ll the government coffers, but it is unlikely to reduce the number of accidents on our roads. Remember that in countries with the lowest rate of road accidents, like Germany, there are no speed limits. The real issue is the total lack of discipline on our roads, coupled with the opportunism that is a cultural trait which runs deep in our upbringing. Anyone who wants proof of this just needs to stand in front of the MacDonald's in Port Louis any day of the week and admire the spectacle: drivers who are smarter than you, take the lane going into Port Louis and swerve back right in front of you to head south.
In the meantime, they block the lane for those who genuinely want to make their way into Port Louis and endanger the lives of those who have been waiting patiently in the proper lanes. And while these practices are taking place, there are two or three policemen too busy talking to care.
As motorists repeatedly get away with malpractices, a noxious message spreads to other drivers: take risks, overtake on the wrong lanes, keep zigzagging on the roads. So, we are not targeting the real problems as these go far beyond driving schools, licences and fi nes. They betray a culture of casual dishonesty.
So, unless there is a thorough change in the mindset of the police, I don't think those who break the Highway Code have anything to worry about. As long as they respect the speed limit. So, penalty point or not, we will continue to drive like third world people and taxi, lorry and bus drivers, who are responsible for the most deadly accidents, will continue to suggest, without blushing, that our roads belong to them.