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Courts at breaking point with motoring offences

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe (Photograph supplied)

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe has warned that the endless stream of roads offences is clogging up the court system.

Mr Wolffe said that the courts deal with at least 650 traffic offences every month.

He added: “That’s not a small number. In some cases, it is more than 800.

“We dealt with more than 7,700 cases in 2017. The year before that was in the region of 8,000. That’s not an insignificant amount.

“In 2016, there were a few months in which we were dealing with more than 1,000 cases per month.

“That’s a large number for a population of 64,000 people.

“It keeps us busy every week. Every Tuesday and Thursday at traffic court, we are there for the full two hours. Every time we are filled with people. There is something wrong with that.”

Mr Wolffe was speaking during the second week of The Royal Gazette’s Drive for Change campaign, which is designed to highlight the carnage on the island’s roads and cut the grim toll of death and injury.

Mr Wolffe said offences once committed mostly by people on motorcycles are now also committed by people in cars.

These included overtaking long lines of traffic and dangerous driving.

He added: “It’s an issue because a car is a 3,000lb bullet. It can do a whole lot more damage to an individual, and that’s rather scary. Another trend is that there was a time when most defendants coming before the courts were male. Now we have more females who are engaged in bad driving.”

Mr Wolffe said that there was a perception that teenagers caused problems on the roads, but he added that statistics showed that adults were involved in the majority of cases that come before the courts.

He said: “One would think teenagers would be the ones with the lack of discernment and lack of responsibility, but we see primarily adults. When you look at the fatalities, a lot are people over 25.

“It seems to me that the young children are probably abiding by the rules. It’s older persons who find themselves coming into contact with the law and one would think they would know a bit better.”

Mr Wolffe added that the impact of traffic crashes went beyond the tragedy of fatalities as serious injuries often damaged entire families.

He said: “What we don’t talk about are the people who are injured and can’t work. That has a knock-on effect on their family. There is a lot of carnage on the roads and there are some very real social consequences to it. Bermuda is an expensive place. People have to work.

“In the family courts, we see people coming in saying they can’t pay their child support because they were involved in an accident months ago and have been unable to work.

“The effect of that is the child is not being cared for financially and not being fed or clothed appropriately because of the bad behaviour of someone else.”

Mr Wolffe said there was a large number of road users driving or riding without insurance.

He added: “People don’t recognise how serious an offence that is. People will literally get a ticket for not having insurance and get in the same car and drive it the next day without getting it insured.

“It’s obvious why it’s important. A lot of people getting involved in these accidents, the victims, are not getting compensated. They have to pay their own hospital costs.

“I have people who come to my civil court who owe hospital bills. They tell me they were involved in an accident and either they were not insured at the time or the person that hit them was not insured.

“So now they are faced with $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 of hospital bills that they cannot pay.

“Not only can they not work, they can’t pay their hospital bills. This is something we need to have no tolerance for.

“If there’s any offence that should lead to someone being taken off the road, it’s that. The consequences of doing that is serious, and I see it all the time.”