House approves Bill to introduce motor manslaughter charge, increased jail time and fines for errant driver

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Three men were killed in March of this year after a speeding car ploughed into them and a bar before coming to a halt on the De Willem Public Road, West Coast Demerara

The National Assembly on Monday passed the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2022 to promote and enforce safe driving. 

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC emphasised the causal relationship between drunk driving and the high number of road fatalities, dubbing the Bill as a timely law-making intervention to address a “chronic” problem. 

“Our government’s priority is the protection of our citizens. Public safety is an important objective and security priority of our government. An integral factor in the equation of public safety is [the] safety of our roadways. We must be able to traverse our roadways. Our children must be able to traverse our roadways. Our citizens must be able to traverse our roadways with a sense of security and psychological peace of mind that some erratic, drunken driver is not using his vehicle as a lethal weapon along the roadways of this country. We must have that sense of security.” 

The attorney general stressed the need for a collaborative effort to facilitate safer roadways. 

“This can’t be the government’s job alone, and legislative changes alone can never be able to curb this horrendous, tragic loss of human life in our country. Every member of society, every responsible organisation in this country must join hands with our government, as we begin to chart a new course of making our roads safe,” he pointed out. 

The Bill introduced the offence of motor manslaughter, where a person causes the death of another by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of a drink or drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. It also provides penalties for causing grievous bodily harm while driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug. 

The Bill also imposed harsher penalties for the offence of driving under the influence. 

Currently, the penalty is a fine between $30,000 and $60,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment. 

The amendment proposed a fine of no less than $200,000 for first-time offenders and no less than $300,000 for repeat offenders. It also adds that persons convicted under this section will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s license for 12 months. 

Moreover, the Bill submits an increase in the fine to $200,000 for driving or attempting to drive while blood alcohol levels exceed the prescribed limit. 

The current law stipulates a penalty fine of $7,500. 

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud, supporting the Bill, said it establishes the importance of assuming and acknowledging each person’s responsibility on the roadways. 

“I hope that, with these measures put in place through the new pieces of legislation, we can move in a direction where people see the need to have a Guyana that is completely law-abiding, really built on the fact that you need to preserve the life of every citizen of this country. Whether we choose to go about it in a non-thinking way or do it consciously and [as the] centre of who we are and what we are as Guyanese, we must be responsible people.” 

Adding to the debate, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand emphasised that the new law will promote and encourage greater adherence to protocols to reduce fatalities on the roadways. 

“That is what we seek here to do today, keep our human resources intact. Look after them, offer them opportunities and see them thrive and grow in this new Guyana that we envision,” the minister relayed. 

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, underlined that for the first time in 16 years, Guyana had reported a 28.8 per cent decrease in road fatalities in 2021, making the second reading and subsequent passing of the Bill even more significant.

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