Former minister laments increased police powers of arrest

Former minister laments increased police powers of arrest
Former Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin

Opposition supports limiting electronic use and open alcoholic beverages 


NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said yesterday that while the opposition supports proposed legislation seeking to prohibit motorists from driving with open alcoholic beverages and the use of electronic devices, the proposed penalties for these acts were “excessive” and the expansion of the powers of police to arrest for traffic infractions is “ill-conceived”.

“Mr. Speaker, we support the provisions relative to the prohibition of the use of handheld communication [devices] and open containers of alcoholic beverages save as it relates to the level of fines, which we believe to be too high and prohibitive. We do not support the provisions giving new powers of arrest to the police, which we believe to be ill-conceived and urge the government to make the appropriate amendment to this provision in this bill,” Hanna-Martin said during debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 2019.

She added, “The police already have very extensive power in traffic violation matters.

“The Bahamas is not a police state and this is not necessary.”

According to the proposed legislation, a device must be attached in full or part to the vehicle and must remain fixed to the vehicle while driving.

The government revised the proposed fine for use of an electronic device from $1,000 to $500.

The bill would also make it a crime to drive with an open alcoholic beverage.

Other provisions of the bill would make the failure of a driver to produce a driver’s license on request of a uniformed officer an offense.

It would also make the failure of a driver to produce his or her name and address; the name and address of the owner of the vehicle or certificate of insurance relating to that vehicle, a criminal offence.

If a driver fails to produce the appropriate certificate of insurance they may be liable of $200 fine and/or arrested and imprisonment for a term of three months without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment.

“We do not understand why this government sees fit to legislate new and further incursions into the freedom of movement of citizens,” she said.

A driver would also be required to pay all outstanding traffic offense-related fines before he or she can be granted a driver’s license of a public service driver’s license, the bills notes.

The Road Traffic (Amendment) Regulation, 2019, would allow for motorists to take a left turn on a red light.

As it relates to the prohibiting open alcoholic beverages, Hanna-Martin suggested another effective tool to improve road safety is the use of breathalyzers which deal directly with intoxication, the root cause of numerous traffic accidents.

She also said in her capacity as minister a comprehensive review of the Road Traffic Act was undertaken with the assistance of the Commonwealth Secretariat, an effort that produced a new Road Traffic Bill, which reflected a modernized legal framework governing conduct of all road user.

Hanna-Martin accused the government of pulling out provisions from that bill developed under the Christie administration, while continuing to sit on the substantive legislation.

“The question that has to be asked is this administration playing games with the lives of the Bahamian people coming into this Parliament of the proverbial white horse claiming to be introducing this legislation as a commitment to road safety?” she asked.

“Even if this government did not accept aspects of the policies driving the bill, certainly the bill must have provided a solid foundation for reform; after all this time should we have not seen some appropriate version brought forward?”

As an example, the MP said the substantive minister must recognize the need for more “rational sentences” concerning killing in the course of dangerous driving.

According to Hanna-Martin, the draft bill she worked on provided for up to a 10-year sentence and the disqualification of the driver’s license to replace the current penalty, which she called minimal.

In a number of cases of drivers being found guilty of killing in the course of dangerous driving, they were fined between $5,000 and $10,000.