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Fighting the right fight

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Caught in the act: on a minute-by-minute basis in Bermuda, a motorist can be found to be using their mobile phone while driving, with the offence now extended to brazen moptorbike riders. There are tough penalties in place to prevent against this law infringements but not enough toll is being taken to effect change on our roads (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Much fuss is being made over whether Stephen Corbishley, the Commissioner of Police, is right to throw the full weight of the Bermuda Police Service behind the Pride parade next month.

But while there may be merit to either side of these incessant arguments, conducted in the House of Assembly and vapidly on social media — quickly becoming the “fifth estate”, no matter its turgidity — there are pressing issues the men in blue could be attending to which are matters of life and death.

But first let us reiterate that the gay pride march is a time for a large segment of Bermudians finally to come to grips with their homophobia and let their greater humanity take the lead role in embracing members of the LGBTQ community, and their families and friends on August 31.

Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer make up a very small number on this island, so it stands to reason that their numbers should be fortified to give the march some ballast. And why shouldn’t they?

Corbishley and a number of his senior officers will be on hand, and so, too, will many others who empathise with the plight of fellow Bermudians who have struggled historically to be seen and treated as equals.

Whatever your views on same-sex marriage and civil unions/domestic partnerships, Pride is about much more than that. It is about respecting the rights of consenting — and taxpaying — adults to live their lives as they choose, as long as they stay within the boundaries of common law.

It is to be hoped that no one among them plans to go over the top with ostentatiously inappropriate behaviour, which would serve only to inflame the sensitivities of those who are already slow to remove the blinders of intolerance.

To conflate the worst possible excesses of this march with some of the scenes that were witnessed during Bermuda Carnival would be futile for its cultural irrelevance. So let’s not go there.

Social-media bullies and others who have signalled violent intent necessitate that the police will not only be in the parade but around its periphery for the length of the route. This is a unique and historic occasion, and it should be treated as such with respect at the core of all proceedings. Which makes Michael Weeks’s comments in the House last week all the more disappointing.

But enough said on that.

We gather here primarily to address a cultural cancer that, if left unchecked, can metastasise, undoing all the progress made since The Royal Gazette launched the Drive For Change road safety campaign in January 2018. It would be wrong of us to posit that accident rates and deaths on our roads have dropped significantly in the past 18 months, but awareness has been raised throughout the community and there are one or two green shoots.

Almost every minute of every day, you can find a road user on their mobile phone while driving or riding. Seemingly oblivious to the laws of the land. All ages. All races. Blue collar. White collar. Male. Female. Treating the law with almost the same lack of regard that so many rude helmet wearers have for the gaudiest of “no helmet” signs on storefronts and checkout counters of places of business.

But would they be so cavalier if the police made a proper fist of catching offenders in the act and frogmarched them in front of a magistrate?

Under Section 44(1) of the Motor Car (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations 1952, titled “Handheld mobile telephones and other handheld devices” it states quite clearly that no person shall drive, or cause or allow any other person to drive, a motor car on a road if he is using:

• A handheld mobile telephone

• A handheld device that can perform an interactive communication function by transmitting or receiving data, other than a two-way radio

• A handheld electronic entertainment device that can produce music or gaming systems — wireless and non-wireless

Punishment in the Traffic Offences (Penalties) Act (1976) ranges from $500 to $1,000 in the pocket, five to ten demerit points on your licence, and from six to 18 months’ imprisonment.

So there is some bite to the laws, if only they were being executed with such regularity to inject a real element of legal peril.

A weakly mild counter-argument can be had that enforcement could be prejudicial against those whose cars do not have tinted windows. Rather than going down that restrictive path again, police could look into acquiring the technology that lets road users know that the police know they are operating handheld devices when in control of their vehicles.

A case of “we see you, so cease and desist”.

The Thames Valley and Hampshire police forces in England are among the first to put into use devices that send an alert to road users when they are on their phones. The system is not foolproof, which is why it has not been rolled out universally or used as an enforcement tool, but it is a significant step in the right direction, says Matt Barber, the deputy police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, to making it “as socially unacceptable to use your mobile while driving as it is to drink and drive”.

And isn’t that what we’re after? To bring about social change in the behaviours on our roads?

But first, as mum would say, if you can’t listen, you must feel.

And if David Beckham could be made to feel it, why shouldn’t our happy-go-lucky motorists?

The former England football captain and internationally known fashion icon was given a six-month driving ban in May for using his mobile phone while behind the wheel last November.

A court heard he was photographed by a member of the public — no doubt, a vengeful Spurs fan seeking retribution for past “offences” — holding a phone as he drove in “slowly moving” traffic.

The prosecutor said that instead of looking straight forward while driving in Central London, “he appeared to be looking at his lap”.

Beckham received six points on his licence and was fined £750 (about $930) and ordered to pay an additional £175 in costs.

The laws are the laws. It is pointless having them, especially those that save lives, if we are not prepared to enforce them.

If you want to have a pop at the police, that’s an argument we can join in on rather than nattering on about whether they are morally right to pick, choose and refuse which marches to which they lend emotional support.

With an example being set across the pond that even superstars are to be held accountable for their misdeeds by law, there is no precedent for our very own brand of miscreant to suggest they can bend it like Beckham.

Caught in the act: on a minute-by-minute basis in Bermuda, a motorist can be found to be using their mobile phone while driving, with the offence now extended to brazen moptorbike riders. There are tough penalties in place to prevent against this law infringements but not enough toll is being taken to effect change on our roads (File photograph by Akil Simmons)