Backward ever, forward never

By Raffique Shah
May 27, 2012

Raffique ShahFOR all our boasts about technological advancements we have achieved—”4G smart phones”, “wifi hotspots”, GPS in vehicles and on phones—it is amazing how we remain mired in backwardness when it comes to dealing with fundamental problems. The classic is carnage on the nation’s roads.

Last Sunday’s horrendous crash that left four people dead and senior Appeal Court Judge Wendell Kangaloo critically injured is a case in point.

In the immediate aftermath, as always happens, scores of persons holding high office and organisations aplenty weighed in on the issue of lawlessness on our roads and highways. For the umpteenth time, most of them appealed to motorists to exercise caution. The police promised more mobile patrols. A few called for the re-introduction of speed traps. Others asked for cable barriers in medians to be extended to cover every kilometre of divided highways. Yet others felt that nothing short of 12-foot walls would suffice.

Back in June 2007, addressing the issue, I wrote, “Driving at high speed, a main cause of carnage on today’s overcrowded roads, is merely a reflection of the animalistic tendencies that so many of humankind have receded into. Human life has no value, whether it’s on a gang turf or the public road. It’s why so many of these murderers-on-wheels can trigger mass deaths by their recklessness and simply drive away as if nothing happened. They stand even less chance than gunslingers of being caught, and if they are, they escape with petty fines that make murder-on-the-road ‘no big thing’.”

I appealed to then prime minister Patrick Manning to divert some of the hundreds of millions of dollars he was spending on the capital city’s skyline to dealing with lawlessness on the nation’s roads by introducing intelligent traffic management systems. I pointed to the introduction in the UK of extensive CCTV networks and automatic number plate recognition devices. I even recommended the “Dubai option”, which combined electronic monitoring with punitive impounding of vehicles for serious violations of traffic laws.

Nobody took me on—not Manning, not the new People’s Partnership Government or Arrive Alive or dead! Indeed, it seems many among them want to pile police corpses onto the carnage-heap. Can you imagine the police setting up old-time speed traps, one cop hiding behind a lamppost armed with a stopwatch, the other waiting with a rag to flag down a speeding motorist? Both of them dead before they even begin such a stupid exercise! Ditto of radar guns which necessitate the physical presence of the police on the deadly jungles we call highways.

I have written before, and I repeat today, the best median barriers would do is confine the carnage to one side of the highway. They are costly to install and maintain, and they are unsightly. As for police presence, how many cops would we require to effectively police all the highways in the country around the clock? The numbers and costs are mind boggling, and the potential benefits are miniscule.

On the other hand, even as we toy with archaic options, other countries are moving ahead with electronic systems that are yielding immense benefits. A few weeks ago, the police and other authorities in India approved a 20-CCTVs surveillance system for the 94-kilometre Mumbai-Pune expressway. It is expected to cost US$1.3 million, with cameras strung out every ten kilometres.

The report on the project stated, “According to the officials, footage captured by the CCTV cameras will provide details of speeding vehicles, which would enable the police to take action against them. It will also help the authorities to study accidents and find out the circumstances in which the mishaps took place. Apart from that it will also keep eye on the illegal trespassers and robbers on the expressway.”

Convincing? Read on. In 2008, shortly after I wrote the piece I quoted from earlier, Dubai was about to increase the number of CCTV monitors and upgrade them using wireless technology. A report then said, “The system would be used alongside closed-circuit TV networks installed around Dubai developments, such as the Dubai Marina network, where footage taken at the time of the Lebanese singer Suzan Tamim’s murder will be used as part of the prosecutor’s case.”

Crime-ridden Mexico is also pursuing the electronic option. A few weeks ago, a toll road concessionaire awarded a US$21 million contract to an IT corporation to install intelligent traffic systems on three motorways. “The company will furnish each motorway with vehicle detection and recognition systems, variable signalling, closed circuit television, traffic data collection systems, weather stations, SOS telephony, infraction detection systems and communications. The main control centre will have vehicle recognition, billing, communications, as well as back office and customer service systems to collect the tolls.”

In the UK, the country with the highest deployment of CCTVs and similar monitoring systems, the fear is for people’s privacy—which I would readily sacrifice for my safety. A 2006 report spoke of systems upgrade. “Existing traffic cameras in towns and cities are being converted to read number plates automatically as part of the new national surveillance network.” Its automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system is more than impressive.

“The National ANPR Data Centre stores all ANPR data feed from the various police and civic CCTV networks in the UK … the Centre is based at Hendon in north London, the site of the existing Police National Computer. In March 2006 the National ANPR Data Centre could store 50 million number plate ‘reads’ per day.”

All of these developments across the world but we are still at the stage of waving rag and flag at killer motorists! Tell me we are not a backward people living in a near-primitive country with our heads buried where the sun never shines.

16 Responses to “Backward ever, forward never”


  • While one cannot argue with the points presented our biggest problem remains un-touched – our lack of discipline. There can be changes made without spending millions and millions. For starters, warning signs are an indispensable part of educating motorists of what to expect in terms of danger, repairs, holes etc. Posting of speed signs are also helpful. It informs those who are un-accustomed with the roads to take precautions. Postings of signs stating those found guilty of breaking simple road and traffic violations should be emblazoned right through the highways. A lot has been said and recorded about the lack of discipline but there also is little taught in the form of education to inform the public in terms of how we behave on the road or in public. I remember as a boy, the colonial administration had a big campaign by simply stating to “Obey The Highway Code”. It was taught in primary, elementary and secondary schools to inform the young ones and it was a huge success. Politics enjoy the highest order of flattery in the current norm of life and nothing is accomplished without that ingredient. If we can forget for a moment what our preferences are and think in terms of the commonality of everyday usages of essential commodities we can find comfort and agreements on simple notions that we should not drink and drive, we should not text and drive, we should not be using the cell phones while driving, the dangers of drunk driving and the like. This is NOT an expensive proposition. It takes, drive, common sense, purpose and focus and most definitely a will to change habits that can eventually save and protect lives. We should not always look for answers on how other people behave in “developed societies”, we have to find our own solutions based on our own ways of doing things. Let us be true to ourselves and our perceptions of where we want to go ……. forward I hope!

  • In the U.S. (which has it’s fair share of traffic fatalities) the state and local governments have raised the monitary costs of penalties associated with traffic violations. As a result, disfunctional drivers are providing funding for the traffic cameras and the installation/ maintanence costs.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    A recent “Creative” punishment for a drunk driver, near my hometown. He was sentenced to stand for a week(I think) at the intersection where he killed a young man, wearing a large sign, front and back, saying. “I snuffed out this life.I was drunk” or something to that effect, while he stood near a large billboard, featuring the laughing face of the 20 year old, he killed. Policemen on their beats, monitored that he was there.When he failed to write a letter of apology to the parents of the young man he killed, he was hauled into court and sentenced for contempt.
    He will, of course, be sued by the parents for all the earning potential of their young college son.

    In Bermuda, with its one car per family rule, losing a licence for speeding is a nationl embarrassment, because people will see you waiting for the bus. The only exception to the one car per family rule, is clergyman married to a doctor. Its a small island, but they manage to keep their road fatalities at near zero.
    The point Kian made about a lack of discipline is quite correct. now, teenagers, caeless and over enthusiastic will speed i fthey get a chance, but to see old greybeards doing it, driving as if they were the only person on the road, does not bode well for our nation.

    In the area of drastic solutions, all speeders caught on cctv should not only be fined, but their vehicles confiscated for say one month. STORAGE FEES TO BE BORNE BY THE SPEEDER IN ADDITION TO THE FINE.

    THE GOVERNMENTS HAVE TO STOP FEARING NOT BEING RE-ELECTED, AND WORK INSTEAD ON CREATING A CIILIZED, LIVEABLE PLACE.

  • One way to cut out this lawlessness and carnage on the roadways, is more 24 hours Highway Patrols. Electronic signs reminding drivers of the speed limits and cctv cameras at trafic lights and every quarter mile on the highways, if you are driving over the speed limit you would be caught on camera and a ticket will be issued to you in the mail.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    And what happens to people who do not pay their tickets? Rules with no teeth are a waste of time.

    This suggestion could work if the law allowed for automatic seizure of the vehicle, if tickets are not paid in three months,or arrangements made to pay them. Wages should be garnished.

    All these new procedures ould halp pay to hire some sdditional young people..

    • Many jurisdictions have hearings or other judicial style hearings associated with traffic violations. If you don’t pay your ticket, your liscence could be suspended and or revoked. If you are caught driving after that, you are facing mandatory jail time and also economic penalties that have to be paid as a condition of probation and or temporary release. Uncle Sam gets paid what he is owed.
      If a person wants to drive, there is nothing that will stop him besides permanant detention.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    Basic to the success of the USA, that place we love to denigrate when we are denied a visa; is a love of country engendered through the school system. A country of 330 million people could not run on the hassekara system we have in Trinidad. There is a rule book for everything.

    You go to get a license renewed, they run a check for violations and tickets. There is a police car parked in the lot of the licensing office. You evade the tolls on tollways, you are automatically caught by the CCTV cameras, and a ticket comes in the mail. Some clever, they thought, raggamuffins covered their licence plate at the rear so that the camera would not pick up the number, but were caught anyway because the entire highway can be under surveillance, they have to get off somewhere,and the cops were waiting.
    The US is a government of laws, constantly reviewed, but constantly enforced. Children are taught to love their country.

    • Like the financial fraud on Wall street for which no one is ever held accountable? And it continues with the Facebook scandal.

      • Linda Edwards, class of '67

        People bought Facebook stock, and it is not living up to the hype, so? That’s the risk invetors always face. Unlike CLICO, which was supposedly guaranteed by the government. I know. I read the documents.

        Some people I know will wait till the FB stocks fall even further, then buy up a big block. When it rises, they make millions.

  • The U.S. has the Highest inmate population in the world and with all of the laws the U.S. still has the highestcrime rate. If people don’t care, they will not follow the law no matter the consequence.
    The deterrent for an increase in measurable payment for traffic violations hinges on the belief that individuals care more about their freedom, money, car, and or priviledge to opperate a vehicle more than they do violating the laws that make us all safe.
    There will always be others who blatently disregard the laws and therefore the safety of thhemselves and others. Society must raise the bar on acceptable vhicular behavior. You can take a persons car, but they will just borrow someone else’s. You can force them to pay more, and maybe that will slow them down, but in order to stop people who violate traffic laws, you must detain them for lengths of time that would make operating vehicles recklessly undesireable.
    What is the value of freedom to those who would place a persons life in danger while operating a vehicle if money and assets are of no concern.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    Curtis, your facts are off. The country with the highest crime rate is Columbia, with Mexico as a close second. CHeck the numbers of murders for the town of Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico.

    Quite a lot of the crime in the southern US is commited by illegal Central American gangs, connected to the drug trade.

    Yes, the prison population is high, and where there are suspected innocents in prison, the Innocence Project works for free to clear their names, even in one cse where the man was already executed.

    LAst week, a girl who missed too much school,17 year old, was arested and thrown into jail for 24 hours. It created a scandal because she is a seventeen year old working two jobs to support a brother in college and a ten year old sister, while taking A-level courses! Boy, did people jump all over that judge. The children had been abandonnd by both parents after they divorced, and they are trying to make a life for themselves.No one apparently told them they were entitled to ublic assistance. The judge, under pressur, cancelled the truancy conviction.
    Now, if every truant high school kid in TnT was thrown in jail for a while, if every corrupt politician went to jail for 30 years, if 90% of the murderers, child abusers, wife beaters and people stealing, and driving unlicensed cars in TnT, only those categories, if they were put in jail, I’ll bet the percentage of Trinis in jail would be about 25%.
    The jail population in the US seems high, because it is a government of laws, not men. Only today, an illegal immigrant from Central AMerica was convicted of intoxication manslaughter, in the death of a policeman who had stopped to help with a road acident. It turned out that the illegal drunk had been deported twice already, so expect that he will spend 30 years n jail. Now, compared to that, has the woman who was speeding on the southern highway, claimed to be a UWI student, instead of an illegal Guyanese, and who killed a policewomn and severly injured a male officer, has she come to trial yet?
    The last fine for an attach by a dog on the public street was in the vicinity of $30,000.

    Remember Ish and Steve’s American cohorts are already serving their time, and their fines for the bribery thing have been repatriate to the government of TnT.Bernie MAdoff is in jail, John Allan Stanford is in jail, the Enron executives who did not commit suicide, are in jail. What of HArrinarine(HCU) and Duprey(CLICO) you think they will see any jail time? You joking. We may not even have on the books in TnT a crime called misappropriation of the public’s funds.
    So, how you guys doing down there fighting crime? Tell me again nuh!

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    A follow-up: Also in the area of illegal imports, not street drugs; every year, US customs sieze billions of dollars of knock off designer brands, produced in Asia and designed to pass off as genuine. They sieze pirated videos, substandard medicines, and other items that do not conform to US standards. Both local and foreign people also go to jail for this here. Anybody in TnT EVER saw a court for pirating a brand name? What about possession of illegal game, and hunting in the off season? You would see jail time and confiscation in the US. In TnT a guy brings in forty enangered animals in bags from South America, and gets a slap on the wrist, a small fine, he will be more careful next time; high ranking people hunt the national bird for a “cook out”, as well as the turtles. What is the fine or jail term for pouring industrial waste in tho the rivers? I know, ” Boy, doh do dat again, yuh hear?’
    This is why we have created a misery of a country, where defective medical equipment is ignored and people die. In the US, there would have ben serious jail time, and millions, if not billions in fines.

    We in TnT are happy managing by hassekara, and we criticise those who really know what they are doing.
    If I started on vehicle inspections, I would do nothing but write on it all day.

    This is not only for Curtis, but for other readers also, some of whom I hope are seriously concerned with creating a system where the laws work.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    Today in MAssachusetts, a young man, who had a licence for five months, lost it for fifteen years, and got two and a half years in jail, for texting while driving, and killing a 55 year old man. The police siezed his phone and were able to prove to the court that he recieved texts at 2.34 and 2.35 PM, the accident occurred at 2.36.

    Technology, and a country of laws that apply to the rich and poor alike.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    June 8, 2012. Dudus, the Jamaican druglord was sentenced in New York today, to 23 years in prison for drug trafficking, and in Houston, Texas, the illegal immigrant who, while driving drunk, crashed through a police barricade at ninety miles an hour, and killed a policeman on May 29, 2011, has been sentenced to 55 years in jail. He is 27.

    Curtis, this adds two more to the prison population in the US. Now, how is TnT doing prosecuting both drugs and drunk driving, which includes intoxicated manslauhter by motor vehicle?

    If we had some laws with teeth, and got the perps to court soonest, we would be a more law abiding country.
    So, get after the legislators, would you, and stop trying to beat up on the USA.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    Ah, Curtis, another one bites the dust, here in the US. John Alan Stanford, fraudster extraordiniare, was sentenced yesterdy to 110 years in prison for defrauding investors, in what has been deemed a PONZI scheme. He joins Bernie MAdoff and that Indian guy convicted of Insider Trading on Wall Street.

    What all you doing down there with the HCU people, Harrinarine et al, and the Duprey gang?
    After all that money on Commission of Inquiry, it will go like the TELCO inquiry under the NAR, it will go “poops!”

  • “I totally dismiss that allegation. It appears there is a plan to make me out to be a person who has a criminal nature.” 1 time Hindu HCU Prez, Harry Harnarine http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,161835.html

    Do you like me , don’t give a hoot about inter tribal warfares between ,’don’t invest in anything Afrikan , but only place all your eggs in ah Hindu basket ,lifetime -Race Mongrel in Chief Sat,’ and this white color bandit PROTEGE Harry, and if so ,can someone inform them of this? Now does anyone see a pattern here – that is ,anyone , but especially our lofty cyber yappers bunch, willing enough , to quit wasting time on inconsequential affairs ,that has no bearing on T&T,realities?
    Sadly, here it is we have this guy ,who could fleeced his company, Ponzi style – in Madoff /John Standford / Raj Rajaratnam fashion – and desperate folks who invest in it of millions, so as to build up his own American based , personal ,stolen loot fiefdom , then when cornered like a castrated Carapichima donkey in heat, deny culpability,or worst yet , still think he is, to again quote him ” not a criminal.”
    Go figure!
    In the meantime , check how the neo tribal apologist,are circling the bandwagon , to defend him , or worst yet, trying too desperately , and failing-one might add-to shift the blame, by pointing to CLICO ,or indulging in idiotic distracting , murder plot antics , as if ,….. well, put in the blanks, as we try to decipher the historically disgusting ways ,of these country despising , cultural vermins. http://article.wn.com/view/2011/10/13/Raj_Rajaratnam_sentenced_to_11_years_in_prison_w/ Tell you what, I luv dis land of mine , but at times it can be a nerve wrecking exercise. The not too subtle irony is that these are the same immoral bums ,who would not hesitate to send to the T&T gallows , a low end , economically neglected/ desperate Trini, at the drop of a steaming pot of boil corn, hmmmmm?

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