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Handhelds on our roads: the deterrent is in law ‒ now for enforcement!

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This motorcyclist was caught operating his mobile phone on a quiet Saturday afternoon, epitomising not only the rampant abuse of the law relating to handhelds but the lack of enforcement (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The recently released road traffic collision statistics for the third quarter of 2022 showed a marked improvement year-on-year, and the Bermuda Police Service rightly should be commended for what has been achieved since Operation Vega came into effect.

However, what cannot be disguised are the inexcusable standards from which these improvements are wrought amid the rise of a new cancer that is attaching itself to an already self-defeatist culture of non-compliance and recklessness on our roads, and would surprise few if it contributed to a whopping 53 deaths in the past 57 months.

There is a growing frustration within the BPS that the community they are entrusted to serve and protect just do not care — until tragedy lands at their very own doorstep.

The mourning that transpires when we lose a life may be genuine, but clearly the sense of loss and vulnerability is not sustained or felt island-wide, and as such those unaffected continue to feel invincible and untouchable.

Thus, we have the rinse-and-repeat of a deadly cycle that has claimed hundreds of lives because of an inability and unwillingness to safely navigate and appreciate a 21-square-mile strip of island paradise.

The levels of lawlessness are out of control: our main roads represent the Wild Wild West at rush hour, speed is a serious concern 24/7, driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol is rampant — and the new cancer, driving/riding a vehicle while operating a handheld, has escalated to the point of becoming dangerously endemic.

We say endemic because the culprits are not only among those most likely — the antisocial element that can be found in the disaffected younger demographic — but they extend to all ages, all races, all nationalities, all levels of income, no matter that the offenders might be otherwise law-abiding.

The penalties for these offences range in degree of severity, and the aforementioned frustration felt by the BPS stems largely from Bermudians continuing to drink and drive despite the courts collecting thousands in fines (the number for September is believed to have exceeded $8,000 for drink-driving alone).

This motorcyclist was caught handling his mobile phone on a quiet Saturday afternoon, epitomising not only the rampant abuse of the law relating to handhelds but the lack of enforcement (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

What is striking, though, is that those who are breaking the law by operating mobile phones while driving their cars, and blatantly so in the case of those on motorcycles, are getting off scot-free by comparison.

Not only are there laws in place for both cars and bikes, but the penalties are actually prohibitive: $500 fine for first offence; $750 fine for second offence if within two years of conviction of the first offence; and $1,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment for third offence if within two years of conviction of the first offence. The first two offences carry five to seven demerit points on the offender’s licence, and the third offence carries seven to ten demerit points. [Source: Traffic Offences (Penalties) Act 1976]

It is instructive, too, that authorities are allowed to adopt a broad approach in cutting out this practice.

To quote the law: “Driving or causing or allowing another person to drive [an auxiliary bicycle/motor car] while using a handheld mobile telephone, a handheld device or a handheld electronic entertainment device”. Which means anyone riding “shotgun” or found to have received or placed a call to the offender can be equally charged.

As far as deterrents go, the fines are quite up there. But in the most recent police figures released, only four tickets were issued between July 11 and September 12, arguably the busiest two-month period of the year in Bermuda — bringing the year-to-date count to a paltry ten.

Given the casually rampant abuse of this law island-wide, that is an astonishingly unbelievable number — even allowing for the possibility that the vast majority of the warnings in that period might have gone to such offenders.

That The Royal Gazette was able to capture the motorcyclists in the attendant photographs during a quiet 20-minute period in Hamilton on Saturday was revelatory on two fronts:

1, Their appearance breaking the law in such proximity was unsurprising

2, Warnings handed out by the police are falling on deaf ears

When the police released the third-quarter statistics, which included 482 serious injury collisions from January 2018 — we should be grateful the 53 death count in that period is not much higher — they listed at No 2 in a seven-point advisory that road users should “avoid using mobile devices when operating a vehicle”.

As much as we applaud the police targeting and bringing to book speeding offenders, and those who ruinously would get behind the wheel under the influence of drink or drugs, we implore not only a much more aggressive enforcement of the law on handhelds but promotion of it as well.

It is not for no reason that there are first, second and third-offence clauses in the respective Auxiliary Bicycles (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations 1955 and Motor Car (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations 1952 of the Traffic Offences (Penalties) Act 1976.

It is time they were thoroughly exercised and that the Bermuda public are strongly warned of what should be a fresh appetite of zero tolerance. The alternative is a continuation of a deterioration in standards where anything seems to go.

We know that is not the case and that the police have worked manfully with limited resources in attempting to make road use more civil.

Chief Inspector Robert Cardwell, of the BPS Tactical Operations Division, said last month in a public plea to would-be offenders: “The use of distracting devices such as a cellular phone, which is unlawful, is heavily frowned upon by other motorists sharing the road with you, as a result of the clear distraction it causes while driving.”

We implore Mr Cardwell to significantly upgrade that plea to a stern independent warning, spelling out the financial penalties and threat of custodial sentence that are already enshrined in law.

For if each housewife or granny knew they could be hit in the pocket for $500 for using their mobile phone at the stoplights — not to mention the cowboys on bikes who have been spotted on their phones travelling the length of Front Street and one-arm bandits in cars and heavy vehicles — behaviours would be improved.

It’s a jungle out there at present and we must take back our roads one step at a time. Make the call.

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Published October 10, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated October 09, 2022 at 4:19 pm)

Handhelds on our roads: the deterrent is in law ‒ now for enforcement!

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