Will hefty fines make our roads safe and dependable?

THIS WEEK, it was reported that following the rapid rise in the number of road accidents in this country, the government is looking to introduce new measures that include hefty fines to contain reckless drivers who cause road accidents which have increasingly and indiscriminately claimed lives of many innocent commuters and pedestrians alike.

THIS WEEK, it was reported that following the rapid rise in the number of road accidents in this country, the government is looking to introduce new measures that include hefty fines to contain reckless drivers who cause road accidents which have increasingly and indiscriminately claimed lives of many innocent commuters and pedestrians alike.

Some of the possible deterrent fines reported in this paper this week include a fine of Rwf 450,000 to be imposed on a driver caught speeding, the same amount for driving without a valid licence, and Rwf 90,000 for using a hand-held mobile phone. 

READ ALSOWant to make me happy? Rethink new traffic fines

It is worth noting that undoubtedly, that if approved, these large fines would be a result of a sheer volume of road accidents that have been occurring up and down the country this year. 

In fact, just last month, the Rwanda National Police reported that approximately 1,324 road accidents had taken place between January and June, causing 97 deaths. 

In essence, this data set indicates that every single day at least seven road accidents occur on both our single and dual carriageways. To say the least, this figure is rather high when compared to the limited number of vehicles on our roads. 

Having said that, however, we need to ask ourselves; will the proposed hefty fines by government help to make our roads safe and dependable, or are there alternative effective solutions?    

First of all, it is common knowledge that in many aspects of society, fines which are normally related to financial punishment are commonly applied to try and deter people from offending. 

In fact, many sociologists find that this argument fits with society’s inherent sense of justice whereby offenders should suffer for their wrongdoing, and to suffer (financially that is) in a way appropriate for the crime. 

Each offender should get what their crime deserves and in Rwanda’s case, a reckless driver caught speeding or without a valid licence, a fine of Rwf 450,000 could be deemed appropriate to punish the offender as well as to serve as an example to deter any future wrongdoers. 

However, it is also worth noting that there is still no available statistical evidence from other countries to confirm that fines actually work as a deterrent to road traffic offences.

Notably too, some commentators have doubt over the effectiveness of hefty fines. For instance, some believe that it is not quite clear how fines will help educate offending drivers on how to conduct themselves better on the road to ensure own safety and the safety of others. 

Secondly, others believe that errant drivers will be more tempted to bribe police officers to let them off paying a big lump sum in favour of a small token directly to the officer.

In such an event, the hefty fines would have created unintended corruption tendencies of their own.

Alternative solutions

Penalty points on a driving licence; penalty points on a driver’s licence are widely used in developed countries to deter drivers from offending.

They cover all aspects of driving including road conduct, driving a vehicle that is road worthy, insurance, drink driving, mobile phone usage, and so on. This system allows judicial courts to fine reckless drivers and endorse their driving licence with penalty points if convicted of a motoring offence. 

More generally, endorsements must stay on the offending driver’s licence for 4 to 11 years depending on the offence. 

Crucially, a reckless driver can be disqualified from driving if they build up 12 or more penalty points within a period of 3 years. For example, in the UK (the country has one of the best road safety records in the world), driving without due care and attention will earn a driver 3 to 9 points. The same points can be issued to a driver without reasonable consideration for other road users. 

Other measures worth considering include the introduction of speed-limit cameras to deter speeding drivers other than the emergency services. 

Also, the standards of our driving practices and tests need revamping to reflect a safe and dependable road transport system.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.

Twitter: @jsabex

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