Those blinking lights


Monday, February 12, 2018

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A new Road Traffic Bill was passed in the Lower House of Parliament last week which will replace the current Road Traffic Act (1938), sections of which have become outdated due to the technological developments in motor vehicle and road designs. For the past three years the authorities have been making steps to enforce aspects of the Road Traffic Act which are increasingly being breached by motorists, among them those blinking lights.

Last November the authorities resumed their efforts to rid the street of those blinking LED lights which some motorists have affixed to their motor vehicles 'as style'. The clampdown resumed in Spanish Town, St Catherine, and is expected to be an ongoing, islandwide operation. Speaking at the time, Senior Superintendent of Police Calvin Allen, head of the Highway and Traffic Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, emphasised that motorists must use lights in conformity with the Road Traffic Act, and those found in breach will be ticketed.

Vehicle modification in Jamaica is nothing new, especially among male drivers. It's sort of a 'man thing', regardless of age. Now, while the primary reason for modifying a vehicle will vary from person to person, the ultimate goal for this practice is to make a statement. So engines are 'souped up'; aggressive-sounding mufflers with extended tailpipes are installed to create that ominous backfire effect similar to a shoot-out; elaborate grills are affixed to the front of sport utility vehicles; dull factory-fitted rims are replaced by chrome or alloy rims that yell “dollaz”; and those blinking lights are installed. Attaching spoilers to the rear of motor cars is not as popular as before.

Fashion or folly

It is advisable to maintain a vehicle in pristine condition; however, there are some modifications that may look fashionable but are quite dangerous for road users. Some of them are becoming prevalent on our roads and should not be allowed to become the standard. For example, some motorists apply extremely low-percentage tints to their windows and windshield. (The lower the percentage of visual light transmission the darker the tint.) But when they do this, many of them cannot use their side-view mirrors effectively without first lowering the windows, especially at nights.

Then there are those motorists, including some taxi drivers, that plaster the darkest tint from top down to halfway their windscreen, directly in their line of vision. Sometimes it is so exact that should the driver adjust his seat he would not be able to see squat. Some of them also apply the tint from the bottom of the windshield upwards, leaving an un-tinted area of about eight inches for viewing the road. When asked the reason for doing this, they say it acts as a permanent sunblock. Indeed, it blocks 'something' and, inarguably, it is more than just the sun.

Light in the darkness

Notwithstanding, one of the deadliest fixtures among vehicular modifications are those blinking LED lights. At first, the trend commenced with the installations of blue LED headlamps only; however, over the past two years the variety of colours has broadened. And not only are these headlamps ultra-bright, but they flicker on and off in quick succession, leaving oncoming motorists bedazzled by the glare. Some motorists also use fog lamps on full beam unnecessarily and these also have a similar blinding effect.

Besides the blinking headlamps, there are other illegal lights that are fitted to motor vehicles. Tail lamps and the all-important brake lights both serve different purposes. Tail lamps make a car visible to other motorists at nights once its headlamps are turned on, while brake lights alert motorists travelling behind another car that its speed is decreasing, thereby reducing the likelihood of a collision. The Road Traffic Act stipulates that these back lights should be red; however, in recent times, some motorists have been using black-tinted tail lamps or extremely dark lenses instead. In effect, this colour change reduces the visibility of the brake lights when activated and, needless to say, compromises safety on the road. As long as a motorist's visibility is reduced his reaction time is going to be affected.

Some motorists also have blinking tail lamps. The biggest hazard with this modification is that it sends mixed signals to the trailing motorist, especially when they are indicating to make a turn. In effect, what is seen from behind is a combination of blinking tail lamps and a flashing indicator — keeping in mind that some indicators are also red. Unfortunately, the driver who hits another car in the rear is always liable. So those tinted or otherwise modified tail lamps must be viewed as another area of concern for the road traffic authorities.

Enlightened approach

Recently, motorists were cautioned about 'police impersonators' who used their private motor cars affixed with the blue flashing lights to coerce unsuspecting motorists to pull over. The dangers involved in this malicious act provide added justifications for these lights should be banned. One has to wonder, if it had not been for the extent to which those blinking lights were being misused — that is, the blatant act of criminals impersonating police officers themselves — if the operation that resumed last November would have started in earnest as it did. Nevertheless, the resumption of this operation was long overdue and so is the new Road Traffic Act.

A new year has started and data provided by the Ministry of Transport's Road Safety Unit indicated that as at February 9, 2018 33 people have been killed in 27 fatal crashes since the start of this year. Data also indicate that males significantly outnumber females in road fatalities annually. While these incidents may not necessarily all be attributed to blinding lights or vehicular modifications, Jamaica needs no more reasons to justify another life lost.

This, therefore, serves as an ideal time for the new Road Traffic Bill to be passed, translated to a stern reminder to motorists about the discretionary use of public roads and safe driving practices, including the removal of those blinking lights. Frankly speaking, with all that is amiss on our roads, motorists need nothing else to drive them crazy.

Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher in a public secondary school. She holds a master's degree in educational administration. Send comments to the Observer or




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