Ministry of Transport Clarifies Seatbelt Law Amid Extortion Claims

Ministry of Transport Clarifies Seatbelt Law Amid Extortion Claims

The Ministry of Transport has clarified statements made by the Commissioner of Police about the new traffic laws. Since seatbelt use was mandated for all persons inside a moving vehicle, several instances of extortion by law enforcement have been reported. Yesterday, the ComPol spoke on the matter and stated that he would be appealing to Cabinet to reduce the penalty from arrest to a ticket. However, Deputy Chief Transport Officer Peter Williams says that the laws already provide the option for violators to be ticketed. Today, he explained that it is a matter of discretion and noted that no changes would need to be made to the new law. 

Peter Williams, Deputy Chief Transport Officer: “When it comes to the seat belt offense it is already legislated that the officers, namely an officer from the Department of Transport, a police officer or a traffic warden from the municipal authorities, they have the discretion to either arrest, summon the person to court or issue a traffic violation ticket for that offense. The offense of seatbelt is already listed in the traffic violation ticket regulation. So that is already established. That is something that is in the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act ever since. That is nothing new. The officers have always had that authority ever since the department was established in the year 1990, that has been a part of the act, right? Remember the Department of Transport, as with most enforcement departments, decentralized from the Belize Police Department, right? Pre-independence and so on, the police department was the primary law enforcement agency in Belize and with time, you know, that- decentralized to the different agencies. Hence the reason why we now have a Department of Transport that focuses solely on the transport and traffic component of our laws in Belize. So the issue of officers having that power, that powers of arrest is nothing new. That is something that has been in the legislation for quite some time now. When it comes to the traffic wardens, whether at the national level, at DOT, or at the municipal level with the various town councils and city councils, unfortunately we don’t have the facilities to be able to take somebody, to process them and so we rely heavily on the Belize Police Department. We continue to work in partnership with the Belize Police Department. At the end of the day, we look at the Belize Police Department as our big sister or our big brother, right? And so we continue to work with them. We continue to be guided by them because ultimately they are the primary law enforcement agency in Belize. They have responsibility to enforce all laws in Belize when our mandate is the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act. And so certainly, when it comes to making an arrest, we rely on the police officers, or the police department rather, to take those persons to the police department for processing. And we follow suit in terms of taking the matter to court thereafter.”

The seatbelt and cellphone laws came into effect on March 1 this year.

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