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Failure to implement roadside testing remains a frustration

In January 2009, as the Shadow Minister of Transport, I penned a letter to The Royal Gazette, which said as follows:

“The year 2008 will be remembered for many things. One of the worst things, however, is the unacceptably high number of road deaths. We all know the statistic — 2008 was equal to 1998, with 17 road deaths, with both years being the highest in the past ten years.

That figure amounts to 26.6 road deaths per 100,000. Meanwhile, road deaths in other jurisdictions are much lower. In 2007, the United States had 13.6 road deaths per 100,000 in population and Britain had 4.8 deaths per 100,000 in population. In 2008, the US had the lowest number of road deaths since Lyndon Johnson was president.

In October 2004, Jamahl Simmons was the United Bermuda Party’s spokesman on transport and is quoted as saying:

‘How many times has Dr [Ewart] Brown promised that they were going to begin addressing road safety? Whenever there has been a spate of tragic road deaths, the minister has come out and promised he would begin introducing initiatives to address the problem. Yet still the public are forced to wait while yet another promise goes unfulfilled.’

More recently, the Minister for Public Safety, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch is quoted as saying, ‘To be clear, this government considers road safety a priority and will do all that it can to ensure that the rules of our roads are upheld.’

Mr Editor, the United Bermuda Party, too, believes that road safety is a priority and has joined others to campaign for improved road safety. As Shadow Minister for Transport, I will lobby for the following in 2009:

• Installation on our roads of a new generation of Catseye road reflectors, which offer a significant boost in night-time and/or poor weather visibility, compared with the traditional Catseye road reflectors, or lines painted down the sides of roads. The new generation of Catseye studs are now in use in approximately 120 locations across the UK, in the Netherlands, France, Australia and in South Africa. Road safety authorities have reported reductions in night-time accidents of well over 70 per cent since the installation of the new road studs

• Introducing more skid-resistant and aggregate road surfacing. This has been shown to reduce accidents in other jurisdictions by well in excess of 50 per cent

• Introducing road safety cameras (speed cameras), which has shown in many jurisdictions anywhere from a 12 per cent to 40 per cent reduction in collisions involving death or serious injury and at static camera sites, the number of those killed or seriously injured in collisions fell by a staggering 79 per cent. The Minister for Transport believes in their power to reduce road fatalities. Premier Dr Ewart Brown was quoted as saying in July 2006 that he had asked his Cabinet colleague Randy Horton, then Minister for Public Safety, “to expedite the installation of the speed cameras”

• Providing the Bermuda Police Service with the legal basis for implementing mandatory alcohol-testing checkpoints with the use of portable breathalysers. It has been reported by Cada that 70 per cent of road deaths in Bermuda are alcohol and drug-related. Figures released by police forces in 2007 in the UK showed that while the number of breath tests rose in 2006 there was a dramatic fall in not only positive breath tests but also the number of motorists failing “fit to drive” tests — designed to detect motorists under the influence of drugs — also dropped. This is evidence that random testing will work

• Increase road signage island-wide to remind road users of the speed limit, which has shown to reduce speed in the UK by upwards of 30 per cent

• Introduction of traffic-calming measures such as road humps. In Hull, UK, a reduction in injury accidents of approximately 56 per cent was found after a series of measures were implemented. Fatal injuries were reduced by 90 per cent and child casualties by 70 per cent

• Introduce a ban on the use of cellphones without a hands-free kit while driving. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents concluded that use of a mobile phone adversely affects driver performance, especially in terms of reaction times and maintenance of lane position

• Raise the manpower levels of the traffic division of the Bermuda Police Service to insure that they can perform their duties effectively — higher police presence reduces accidents

I urge our Premier, Dr Brown, who has been Minister for Transport for the past ten years to work with the Minister for Public Safety, to implement quickly the proposals I and others have outlined. It is truly a matter of life and death.”

Well, from May 2016 until July 2017, I was the minister responsible for transport, and was very excited to be given an opportunity to try to make some changes like I had proposed eight years before. Frankly, I was not given the time or the tools to get the job done for any number of reasons, although I remain proud of my key achievement in getting Twizys introduced to Bermuda, which has reduced accidents, and for having a very strong Bermuda Road Safety Council.

Of the items I lobbied for, cellphones were already banned, traffic-calming measures were impractical for emergency vehicles, road-surface changes were too expensive and Catseyes labelled impractical because of the number of motor bikes on the road. So what about speed cameras and roadside sobriety testing?

My ministry did make some progress on speed cameras, with a number of very useful cross-ministry consultations. The conclusion I reached was that a public-private partnership for speed cameras would be the most effective and cost-efficient — and this would have been the next item on the agenda in the Ministry of Transport should the One Bermuda Alliance have been successful at the polls. In short, I believed that the private entity would install and maintain the cameras in exchange for a percentage of fines levied and collected, thereby ensuring there were no capital costs to the Government.

As for roadside sobriety testing, this initiative became bogged down in issues regarding legality, much to my immense frustration. I had numerous meetings with the BPS, the Bermuda Road Safety Council, Transport Control Department, Cada and, finally, the Attorney-General’s Chambers but just could not get agreement on the legal way of getting this done. I wish I had. This is the item that will change behaviours immediately and will reduce road deaths and injuries significantly.

With that said, I urge the present government to fulfil its pledges from ten years ago to finish the job. I will support them 100 per cent.

Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government