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ONLINE READERS COMMENT: Speed limits and road markings, archaic and without reason

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Mr Bumble, in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, when advised that "...the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction", replies: "If the law supposes that…..the law is an ass, an idiot". Ahh, Mr Bumble, if only you knew of the motorists' lot on Jamaica's highways. I have tried, for years, to engage the Ministry of Transport on this matter but no-one seems either aware or concerned that they often amount to provocation and entrapment of motorists.

At least Omar Davis when he ran the Transport Ministry, and Morais Guy, his junior minister responded to my letters. Mike Henry when he ran the Ministry and Robert Montague, were both written to as well, but neither even acknowledged the letters.

The Deputy Chairman of the Road Safety Council and I have exchanged several emails, and I have spoken with and written to the Director of the Road Safety Unit, all in an effort to get somebody to look at the problems motorists must confront “out there.”

The speed limits and road markings are a minefield for motorists. They seem to have no rhyme or reason to them, and police in certain parishes enforce them zealously. The Seaga Highway (North/South Highway) is an outstanding example of the folly I refer to. I don't believe anybody really believes that road safety concerns require a maximum allowable speed of 80 kph on that highway, which also has long stretches with 70 kph and 60 kph limits.

Any old country road completely lacking safety features and having poor surfaces allows 80 kph. What road safety concerns govern those? Why is the Seaga Highway, a world-class, purpose-built carriageway being strangled with the same restriction?

Mr Bumble lives! The speed limits on this particular road have exactly zero road safety merit and no-one obeys them, and I don't say this lightly.

Did you know that from Mammee Bay almost to Golden Grove, about seven kilometers, it is 60 kph in both directions? Incredible!

The last time I drove it I used cruise control to maintain that speed, and every single vehicle passed me. I did the same in the 80 kph sections, and again, every vehicle passed me. I no longer use this road as I find it impossible to obey those limits.

Take a bow, Mr Bumble.

Speed limits of 80 kph, and 50 kph, especially how we apply them here, beg for urgent review. When they were instituted in 1938, most cars would have been approaching their limits at 80 kph and roads were in their childhood. They represented bold thinking, reflecting the realities of the times.

Fast forward 80 years to today. Cars and roads have transcended in every way those ancestral realities, yet we have tied ourselves to them as if they fell from heaven.

Now, the police can have speed traps on any highway knowing that the ridiculous limits will net many motorists. We waste a lot of paint on unbroken white lines which indicate “no overtaking” zones. The folly of some of these is transparent, and I give a personal example.

Police stopped me on the Falmouth bypass for overtaking on an unbroken white line. I was flabbergasted. An unbroken white line at that location seemed like entrapment so I asked them how far away I was when they observed this act. The officer estimated it at around 400 meters…and that exactly proved the point. I was on the highway, within the speed limit, having an unhindered sight line of several hundred meters, and there's an unbroken white line there. I asked the officer why there was such a line and he plainly told me that he didn't know. But there was one there and I got a ticket for breaching it. I haven't even mentioned the 50 kph zones on the highways. Space does not allow me to point out the numerous silly things that present the motorist with a veritable obstacle course….and no official seems to care. Their preferred approach is to set up traps on the highways precisely because even well-meaning motorists find it impossible to obey those rules.

Focus more on reckless driving. Motorists bobbing and weaving on the roads contribute to cars being in other peoples' lanes and fuel our “accident of choice”, the head-on. Boasting of how many tickets were issued is nonsense since our decrepit system cannot find hard-core offenders. There are motorists driving around with dozens or hundreds of tickets. The people who pay tickets are the well-intentioned ones entrapped by some of the silliness which passes for guidance on our roads. The hard-core offender simply ignores tickets, knowing that nothing will happen. Then an amnesty is offered…and we boast about how much money we collect. Shame!

Michael Nicholson

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