Gov’t changes gear 

TRANSPORT operators have claimed a small victory in their efforts to have the Government review the child restraint provisions in the new Road Traffic Act (RTA) that has elicited outcry from the sector and ridicule from the wider public since the law came into effect last Wednesday.

Transport Minister Audley Shaw announced new provisions regarding restraints required for the conveyance of children, based on age and size in different types of vehicles, in Parliament on Tuesday. The changes will not require parliamentary approval.

Shaw also advised the House that a period of three months will be allowed during which other concerns regarding the legislation will be examined.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had directed the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) to undertake weekly reviews and provide reports on the enforcement and effectiveness of the measures as well as any concerns expressed by the public. The first meeting is scheduled for today.

Reacting to Shaw’s announcement, Egeton Newman, head of Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), said his group welcomed the news.

“That is what we want, the time to go through the public education campaign; [and] we hope that the police understand what this means. There are other things in the Act that we want to look at, and we have the time to do so now,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“We were expecting this. We have had discussions, agitation, public outcry, and today we are happy that the minister spoke to the issue, and the matter now can be looked at from a different angle, and wait on the discussions of the Road Safety Council. We are hoping to have our own input,” he stated.
Shaw told the House of Representatives that the Government had heard the outcry regarding the child restraint requirement, and agreed to review aspects of the regulations without compromising safety.

“The realities of our public passenger transportation system and how it operates will place an undue burden on parents whose children need to travel in public transportation — whether accompanied by an adult or not. The risk of the inability to access transport services may exceed the risk associated with travel without using a child restraint system. The rules applicable to public passenger vehicles have to be less stringent than those applicable to private vehicles,” he stated.

The child seat requirement table will be added to the 13th schedule of the regulations to set out what is required for different categories of vehicles.

Children under 12 months must be held by an adult; one- to three-year-olds may travel with or without restraint by an adult; three- to six-year-olds may travel with or without restraint by an adult, or be restrained by a lap belt; while six- to nine-year-olds may travel without restraint, or with a lap belt. Children over nine years old are allowed to travel without restraint, with a lap belt, or with a three-point seat belt.

“Only children who are of the weight and size to use an adult seat belt are permitted to travel in the front passenger seat,” he noted. All other children are required to travel in restraints appropriate for their size and weight, as set out by guidelines. Adults restraining a child are prohibited from travelling in the front of a vehicle.

Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips said the Opposition supports the adjustments in the regulation while reiterating that, in addition to drastic changes in the new law, most of the provisions pre-existed but there is an urgent need for public education. Furthermore, he argued, “There needs to be a national dialogue as to how it is we provide a modern public transport system.”

Member of Parliament for St Catherine Southern Fitz Jackson also called for the penalties regarding lights on motor vehicles to be replaced by warning tickets, which can be recorded in real time by the new ticketing system.

“Our people mustn’t feel that the State is being unfair to them. We have an obligation to be reasonable and practical in instances like these,” he stated.