Trinidad & Tobago’s new traffic law nears green light

Legislation for a single authority to control roads and highways is advancing through parliament in Trinidad and Tobago as the government aims to make licence issuance more transparent as well as curb uninsured driving.

Finalisation of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Bill − first drafted in 2014 – is progressing and its full approval is expected to be high on the agenda of the new parliament that will take office after the September 7th general election.

The bill tackles some important issues for T&T, where a relatively high standard of living and the absence of a passenger rail service mean that private cars and commercial vehicles are the main form of land transport.

Although the World Bank no longer publishes vehicle density data, the most recent available figures revealed that T&T had 353 vehicles per 1000 people in 2007, one of the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. Only Barbados had a higher rate, at 469, while the numbers for Argentina and Mexico, the next two highest-ranking countries in the region, came in at 314 and 275 as measured in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

T&T’s public transport system mainly consists of a small network of passenger buses run by the Public Transport Services Corporation (PTSC), with much of the local population relying on “maxi-taxis” − privately owned vans that run between fixed points and operate on a flexible basis.

New authority

Following their split two years ago, the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Transport share oversight of the sector, with the former responsible for the highways and traffic management, while the latter looks after transport and licensing.

The bill will combine and streamline several overlapping agencies whose responsibilities are currently blurred. These include the Highways Division, which oversees construction and maintenance of the road network; Transport Division (also known as the Licensing Authority); Traffic Management Branch, which has a remit for traffic planning and control; and the PTSC, which runs public bus services.

The government is now seeking to create a new body, the Motor Vehicle Authority (MVA), that will centralise some of these responsibilities and modernise the way they are exercised. At the core of its operations will be the registration of vehicles and the licensing of drivers, most of which is to be managed through an online database.

A modernised system will also allow for more transparent licensing procedures. During a Senate debate in May, independent Senator David Small spoke of perceived corruption in the current licensing system. This follows comments from the transport minister, Stephen Cadiz, to a local radio station last April that the MVA would eliminate the problem of “licence buying” that plagued the system.

Supporters of the bill have suggested that new technology could deliver considerable benefits. Stacy Roopnarine, the minister of gender, youth and child development, said that the MVA would require all vehicles to install radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, helping to reduce car theft and the number of unregistered vehicles on the road. Police records showed 742 vehicles were reported stolen in 2014, a figure Roopnarine said RFID would help reduce.

Taming the roads

Uninsured driving is another problem. Current regulations require all drivers to have a minimum level of third-party accident insurance, but the finance minister, Larry Howai, has acknowledged uninsured driving is an issue, preventing accident victims from receiving compensation. To cover this deficit, the central bank and the Association of Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Companies have agreed to set up a TT$20m ($3.2m) accident insurance fund. Howai said the size of the fund had been calculated on the assumption of 4208 cases of bodily injury and fatalities per year, about a third of which involve uninsured or untraceable drivers.

The government is also cracking down on drink driving. The government raised the fines for drink driving from February, and the new bill will make it an offence to drive with an open alcoholic beverage in a vehicle. According to Cadiz, implementation of the new bill is expected to double the earnings of the Licensing Authority to TT$300m ($47.4m) a year. 

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