By Teni Housty
Several years ago when we here in Guyana were described as experiencing a crime spree, if someone were to emerge from the shade on a road pointing an object at you, the driver would react. The reaction would be to speed up, pass the person or swerve to avoid the threat that was anticipated. Today, when for example, on Homestretch Avenue or Carifesta Avenue a person emerges from the shade pointing something at you, they are in fact armed. It is more than likely a police officer armed with a speed gun, a ticked book and discretion. If you as the driver ignored the flashing lights (warnings) of oncoming motorists and did not slow down, you would find yourself snared in the speed trap set by the police officer. The officer exercises the power and stops the driver. This contribution explores the ‘then what?‘ after the stop. It first examines the manner in which speed limits are established, then the use of machines to assist in proving speed, followed by options when stopped, concluding with a suggestion regarding respect for rights, consistency and the administration of justice.
We start from the position that laws must be obeyed. For particular zones on the road, there is a maximum allowable speed which is established by law. If you exceed that maximum speed you havecommitted an offence. From the perspective of the police officer, the driver has exceeded the limited speed for which the driver could be charged. The speed limit or maximum speeds for particular zones on the roads in Guyana were revised about 3 to 4 years ago. For many, this reflected the improvements in vehicles and realities of the road; for others it was seen as an excuse to drive faster.
In respect of the zones, these are in themselves a trap; there are some zones in which the speed is reduced from 80km/ph to 65-60 km/ph without warning. When this reduction occurs, you are usually met by an officer emerging from the comfort of the shade. It is suggested that for the sake of fairness, a warning that speed should be reduced should be posted.
You are now caught in the speed trap. In the old days it would have been difficult for the police officer on the road in Guyana to prove speeding. It would have been necessary for the evidence of one officer to be supported by that of another. Machines were accepted as the method in which this assistance could be provided, in place of the support of the other officer. The speed gun of various types became the instrument of choice. We would hope that with any instrument (gun in particular) there is training in the use. This is not guaranteed; we all know the expression ‘trigger happy.’ The absence of training is a matter for the court and a defence. We therefore hope that our friend emerging from the shade is not trigger happy. There is therefore a defence for the person who is caught and wishes to challenge the results of the speed gun.
If you know you have been driving above the posted speed, the officer emerging from the shade will be armed not only with a gun, he will also have a ticket book and discretion. Of the three, which is more feared? We would suggest the discretion. The officer has the discretion to charge the driver or issue a ticket. If the driver disputes speeding, then a charge is likely. If in your humility you recognise you drove over the posted speed for the zone, you could receive a warning, a ticket, be informed that you could receive a summons by post, or be charged. It is the zone in the mind of the officer which presents the concern – the discretion to charge in particular. So where will this take the driver? First to a police station, then probably on to station bail, then a charge. The driver would have to spend time away from work and time running to and from court; the justice system will be clogged by yet another matter that could have been addressed in an easier manner. Speeding should not be a matter which is addressed by way of detention, arrest and attendance at the police station.
One thought is for some disciplinary penalty to be provided for an irresponsible exercise of discretion. Another could be to limit the discretion and permit charging as an option in cases where the speeds are particularly high above the posted speed, and also for speeding in certain zones, such as schools and hospitals. On another note, the driver caught in the trap should try demanding a ticket; if there is a refusal, s/he should take the name, number and rank of the officer, and use it later in a complaints procedure. You will not likely see that person in court when you go. The courtrooms are still very hot, and the shade is cooler.
Arrive alive, do not speed.