Transport Minister Renward Wells.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
TRANSPORT Minister Renward Wells said the government takes deaths in the course of driving seriously and will ensure existing laws reflect fitting penalties for such offences.
Among the new changes is a more enhanced and robust penalty for a new definition of vehicular manslaughter by dangerous driving. If found guilty of this offence, a sentence of up to 10 years in prison could be meted out.
The charge of vehicular homicide by dangerous driving will be levied on an individual who is found to be driving far below what can be expected of a competent driver, when it would be obvious that the manner of driving was dangerous, Mr Wells said.
Officials have also introduced a new offence of vehicular manslaughter by careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This new offence of vehicular manslaughter will also attract a term of imprisonment for up to 10 years. However, the minister said not all careless driving will attract such a high term of imprisonment, even if it leads to death.
The driver must be shown to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol where the consumption of drugs or alcohol makes them unfit to drive or to be in charge of a vehicle.
Yesterday, Parliament began debate on the Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2019.
The Bill, when passed, will reform the law as it relates to death by reckless or dangerous driving and establishes the offence of vehicular manslaughter by reckless driving, dangerous driving and by careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
It also prescribes punishment for driving while committing the offences of doing so while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured and by driving with unbelted children or other persons as passengers, to provide for higher penalties for these road death offences.
“…These amendments in this bill, seeks to increase the penalties in the first instance of the offence which was formerly known as ‘killing in the course of reckless or dangerous driving’ and to remove the perception, that road deaths, as a results of reckless or dangerous driving is a less important family of killings or the taking of human life,” Mr Wells said.
He also said: “These amendments are due to the fact that historically homicide by a motor vehicle was always treated less severely than other forms of homicide. So, if a person wantonly or recklessly shoots a licenced gun, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment for manslaughter. However if a person wantonly or recklessly runs over a pedestrian crossing the road with his car, the sentence was only a maximum of four years or a fine of ‘not less than $5,000’.
“… The sentences have been increased, and the ability to substitute jail with a fine has been removed. Only a question of how many years in jail is now applied.
“Logically there is no reasonable cause to treat vehicular homicide differently than any other form of manslaughter. However, in the interests of justice or, perhaps common humanity where appropriate, the magistrate can find the accused person guilty of a lesser charge, based on the facts as they emerge in the course of proceedings.”
In 2019, there were 5,138 accidents with damages; 1,173 accidents resulting in injuries; 1,070 hit and run; and 54 matters that resulted in 57 fatalities, according to National Security Minister Marvin Dames.
Thirty three of the fatalities happened in New Providence, six in Grand Bahama, four each in Andros and Abaco and three at Eleuthera.
There were two fatalities on San Salvador and one on both Exuma and Cat Island.
He said the leading cause for the deaths was speed followed by driving without due care and attention and then dangerous and reckless driving.