Assessing Adherence: Belize City’s Response to New Traffic Laws

Assessing Adherence: Belize City’s Response to New Traffic Laws

It’s been 34 days since new traffic laws came into effect that mandates the use of seat belts for all drivers and passengers inside a moving vehicle, and the prohibited use of cell phones while driving. But are people adhering to the laws? Well, that’s what we set out to find out today. Our newsroom spent some time on the streets of Belize City monitoring motorists at different locations. Reporter Vejea Alvarez tells us more.

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: By all accounts, seatbelts save lives and under new traffic laws, all persons in a vehicle are required to buckle up. But how often do people actually use them? That’s what our newsroom sought to find out today in Belize City. We placed our cameras in three heavily trafficked areas and tried to monitor how many motorists were adhering to the laws of the land. We created two tables to track seatbelt and cell phone use, which is now prohibited while driving. Our first stop was at a speedbump on Barrack Road, where I looked into the vehicles as they slowed down and attempted to question motorists about the new law. After twenty minutes, a total of 64 cars passed by us. We were able to observe 18 vehicles with persons strapped up and 36 vehicles with persons not using seatbelts, while 10 were too tinted to see inside. We also noticed two persons using cell phones, one of whom adhered to the law and used a hands-free device to talk on the phone. Under the new statutory instruments, persons can be fined up to five hundred dollars or sentenced to six months in prison. So why are Belizeans not using seatbelts? Two persons in a pickup truck told us they didn’t know it was now required under the law.

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Are you guys aware that there is new traffic laws in place that now mandates persons to use seatbelts ? 

Driver: “No, I’m not aware of it.”

Passenger: “They said they would put a law but I haven’t seen them – they stop you sometimes but we only put it on when we go up the road for safety.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: You guys think it was something important ? 

Driver: “Well it saves lives but they should have let people know, put it on the news to inform people that way they don’t get you by surprise. Let them know, advise them then put it in effect in a month’s time.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Contrary to what that motorist believes, the Ministry of Transport had been sounding the alarm on the changes for months. Last year on October 25, then-Chief Executive Officer, Adele Catzim, spoke about the plans to increase road safety and decrease the number of fatal road traffic incidents.

Adele Catzim: It is our responsibility to make sure that the laws are not just conducive to ensuring road safety but that we also do our part to enforce existing legislation. We are in the process through this road safety project of amending statutory instruments that rae related to enforcing not using electronic devices while driving, using seatbelts for all persons who are in the motor vehicle, currently the legislation only requires the use of seatbelts for people who are in the front of the vehicle, the front seats and so now the new statutory instrument will require seatbelt use for all persons in the vehicle.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Our second stop was on Central American Boulevard in front of Brad’s Store, where we placed our camera near the pedestrian crossing. We started the timer and after fifteen minutes we did a tally. A total of 42 vehicles passed by. 27 had persons inside not using seatbelts, while only nine were observed with persons inside buckled up, and six were too tinted to see inside. 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Do you know you’re required by law to wear a seatbelt ? 

Driver: “Out of the city limits.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: No, anywhere. Any reason you’re not wearing one ? 

Driver: “Well that’s too much harassment in the city, out of the city limit. Those people come here tell them if they know they’re supposed to stand up there, see the vehicle stop then they move because it’s dangerous the vehicle might not have brakes.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: But why are you not wearing a seatbelt ? Any reason ?

Driver: “I’ve never worn that from ever since and I’m 63. When I’m going on the road as I reach out of city limits or a little before I put it on.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: While the elderly man believed the law only applies on the highway, persons in a motor vehicle must use the safety measures on all thoroughfares. One motorist acknowledged he was breaking the law but didn’t seem to care too much about it. 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Do you know that by law you’re required to wear a seatbelt ? 

Driver: “Yeah.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Any reason you’re not wearing one ?

Driver: *Chuckles*

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Our final stop was the corner of New Road and Douglas Jones Street, where 31 vehicles passed within fifteen minutes. 21 vehicles had persons inside not using seatbelts and 10 had persons adhering to the law. We note that we didn’t notice anyone being penalized today, despite Deputy Chief Transport Officer, Peter Williams, saying a few weeks ago that the department would be cracking down. 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: How will they enforce this really because I can imagine maybe some traffic officers might not be able to be on the road at all times and see persons actually using their phones while driving.

Peter Williams, Deputy Chief Transport Officer: “Yes so this legislation is very straight forward. When it comes to traffic offenses it’s what you call strict liability and so if a person is seen committing the offense the officers are within their authority to engage those individuals and to investigate into the matter.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Our newsroom also observed several police mobiles with officers inside not using seatbelts and even a traffic officer cruising without a seatbelt. Vejea Alvarez, Love News.

While the drivers not in compliance with the law were not penalized today, and while enforcement was not at all present on the streets, the Ministry of Transport may be looking to increase their efforts after receiving a donation of traffic equipment. Today, the Second Road Safety Project handed over much-needed equipment to the Department of Transport (DoT) and the Police Traffic Unit. The equipment gifted to the DoT includes, among other items, handheld radios, flashlights, handcuffs, retractable speed bumps, first-aid kits, checkpoint signs, and binoculars. The Police Traffic Unit received flashlights, binoculars, traffic cones, first-aid kits, and reflective safety vests. The equipment is valued at $196,815 and is expected to further enhance the DoT’s capabilities and efficiency in working with the Police Traffic Unit to better enforce road traffic regulations. The Second Road Safety Project is being executed through the Ministry of Economic Development with loan funding from the Caribbean Development Bank.

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