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A culture shock for dearly departed minister

Dear Sir,

Lawrence Scott, the former Minister of Transport (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A few days ago, when it was time again to go through my pile of paper clippings to weed out those of faded relevance, I found one from November 19, 2021, where The Royal Gazette reported that Lawrence Scott, now the former Minister of Transport, thought Bermuda’s number of road deaths — 16 in 10½ months; ie, 18.3 per year — did not qualify for causing a state of national emergency.

Mr Scott was clearly concerned as he, and everybody else, should be; and he informed us that his ministry has taken steps which aim to reduce the casualties by 25 per cent; ie, to 13.7 per year. With that, Bermuda’s road fatality rate per 100,000 would indeed be considerably better than that of France, Britain, Germany, Canada, United States, Mexico and many others.

Further reduction would be very welcome but would not be easy to achieve. Mr Scott saw at least part of that difficulty in “our driving culture”.

Our driving what? Culture? Which is according to Webster’s Unabridged “... improvement, refinement, or development by study, training, and refinement of the mind, emotions, manners, taste, etc., including the result of this.”

Cicero defined “culture” as cultivation of the soul as the highest possible ideal for human development.

To make sure that we know what we are talking about here, let me first try to list what motorists in Bermuda are actually up to:

• Exceeding the speed limit (21mph = 35km/h; 50km/h is often tolerated)

• Ambling along, thereby impeding the flow of traffic

• Texting or phoning while driving

• Not indicating a change of direction (advice: look to where the front wheels turn!)

• Driver’s front paw dangling out of the window (instead of having both hands on or near the steering wheel)

• Leaving the indicator lights blinking (mostly bikes)

• Running red lights (some crossings are famous for that)

• Not waiting behind an obstacle (eg, parked car) despite oncoming traffic

• Driving with two wheels over the middle line, also and especially around corners

• Tailgating

• Overtaking on the left side (mostly bikes)

• Weaving through the traffic (mostly bikes)

• Transporting toddlers standing on the scooter

• Letting the rear paws dangle (bikes)

• Riding a bike on just its rear wheel

• Two bikers riding side-by-side in deep conversation

• Two or three push-bikes travelling next to each other

• Parking one car in two parking bays

• Double parking (with and without driver in car)

• Parking at double yellow lines

• Leaving the engine of a parked car running, often no driver inside

• Stopping at traffic lights past the stop line

• Stopping on pedestrian crossings (and even past them)

• Stopping on top of a hill

• Stopping for a chat

• Blocking gates or joining streets

• Driving in the dark without lights

• Driving with faulty lights

• Driving with non-working brake lights

• Driving with high-beam lights, although there is oncoming traffic

• Driving under some kind of influence

• Driving with expired or even without a licence

• Driving without insurance coverage

• Letting oil leak from the engine

• Thick exhaust fumes coming from poorly tuned engines

• Driving a noisy or very noisy vehicle

Did I miss something? Most likely. Because one cannot think of everything, given our motorists’ creativity. These things happen all the time and everywhere; I guess one could witness about two thirds of the above on just one trip from Hamilton to St George’s.

But nothing in the compilation seemed to fit Cicero’s or Webster’s definition. Could Mr Scott have perhaps resorted to a certain nuance of the term “culture” of which I had not been aware. As English is not my native language, I thought I had better consult the internet.

And there I found a third, less idealistic definition: “Culture encompasses the social behaviour, norms, knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in human societies. Humans acquire culture through learning processes of enculturation and socialisation.”

That is what Mr Scott must have thought of. As it covers all in the above list, the minister was right after all. It is so satisfying for citizens to find proof of their government having gotten something right.

The police have tried for decades to help this sorry state of affairs. And they do have a difficult job because much of what the motorists do has become so common as if it were accepted norm. The police work special operations like Vega, through which, according to their statistics, the number of traffic offences have declined. I am sure their figures are correct, although my personal “feeling” is that statistics do not evince a tangible improvement.

Occasionally, the police concentrate on certain roads, with advanced information to the public. That is certainly a good idea; it allows the casual offenders to take a safe detour, and leaves only the hardcore types on that road, the ones they really like to catch. It also reduces the risk of inadvertently netting a member from the legal or political layers of society; that is always so very embarrassing, and may require remarkable jurisprudent contortions to get them off the hook again.

But following Mr Scott’s variant of the meaning of culture to its logical end rewards us with a very pleasant surprise: what has always been so negatively called “breaches of the law” now turn out to actually be cultural events — thousands of them performed daily by our motorists! What an abundance of culture on our roads!

Wow! How wrong I had always been when I thought we were helplessly going under in an orgy of traffic offences.



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Published November 18, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated November 17, 2022 at 7:23 pm)

A culture shock for dearly departed minister

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