Viewpoint

October 20, 2022

Traffic infractions: Are laws punitive or corrective?

Chaos as Benin City traffic lights collapse

By TAOFIQ ADEBAYO

If you cannot patiently bear correction, endeavour to avoid fault – Norm Macdonald (1959-2021), Canadian stand-up Comedian, Actor and Writer

LAWS are generally made to regulate human behaviours as they relate to different aspects of our lives. Established laws help ensure fairness, balance, equity, parity and sanity in a society. Human excesses are checked through the enactment of laws as they serve as guidance and standard for acceptable behaviour. A society without law would encourage disorderliness and abuses by some people.

Abuse and misuse of power are inevitable in a setting where there are no laws. Where there is no law, they say, there is no sin. Offences are bound to occur when laws are enacted. Committing an offence then means the individual has disobeyed the law. The sole aim of making a law is to be obeyed. It then becomes imperative on the law-abiding citizens to obey that law. 

Obeying a law then becomes a duty, not an option. Laws are of different types and classifications depending on the jurisdictional entity of the body or government that creates the laws. Laws can be common, statutory or regulatory. Traffic laws help guide and checkmate motorists’ behaviour on the road. These laws ensure that traffic signs are not selectively obeyed but in full. 

When a vehicle is impounded on account of traffic infraction, the driver is always quick to say that he doesn’t know his action is a traffic offence – he claims ignorance of the law. In fact, the law frowns at claiming ignorance of the law which it regards as inexcusable. Many other motorists when apprehended would say most traffic managers do not use corrective measures as they only deploy punishable means by the way they operate.

After being made to face the full wrath of the law as a consequence of their action, the traffic violators claim that they ought to be corrected, not punished. If every traffic law offender or violator is always corrected by just a mere warning with no scapegoats made, then everyone would be disobeying traffic laws since there are no consequential punishments attached.

There is no where it is enshrined in the Lagos State Transport Sector Reformed Law 2018, as amended, that an offence is pardonable. Each traffic offence comes with its penalty or fine. What could be observed is that there is difference in penalties or fines for an offence for a first offender and that subsequently committed by same offender to serve as additional punishment. Let me make clear that it is the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences (Mobile) Court that decides the fine and also pronounces judgement as appropriate.  

Punishment is a form of correction as it usually achieves two main purposes – serves as reminder to the offender not to commit same offence again and to serve as deterrent to others with intention or likely tendency of doing same. The aim of a fine for traffic offence isn’t actually to drain the offenders financially, but to prevent a repeat.  However, it is important to state clearly here that, with respect to a traffic offence, correction can come in the form of warning and punishment.

It depends on the nature of offence committed and the angle from which it is viewed. The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, personnel correct erring motorists, but it is at their discretion. Records or instances of corrections made by these traffic controllers and managers may not always make it to the news but they effect corrections in many ways.

When warning comes as a form of correction, there must be an indicator that would serve as reminder to prevent reoccurrence. This warning indicator might not be stern or stiff as the case may be. On the other hand, if corrections are carried out and effected as punishment, they are usually stern so that the receiver will feel sorry for his action. The law cannot be bent to favour an individual on grounds of sympathy; it applies to everyone. It therefore behoves on all to avoid breaking the law in order not to be caught on the wrong side of it.

LASTMA personnel operate within the ambits of the law that established the agency. Their primary function as empowered by law is to control and manage traffic, and then call to order erring motorists who do not obey traffic laws by way of enforcement through the apprehension of their vehicles. Most times, full compliance with traffic rules and regulations might not be achieved except through enforcement as there would be some recalcitrant individuals.

Few weeks ago, the General Manager of LASTMA, Mr. Bolaji Oreagba, while enjoining road users in Lagos to comply strictly with the State Traffic Laws, urged motorists to avoid the consequences the law will bring on them if they violate it. Mr. Oregaba made this appeal in a reaction to the impoundment of some vehicles by the Core Operations Commands of the agency from the headquarters across Lagos metropolis over indiscriminate and illegal parking on the roads.

The General Manager said: “I must implore law-abiding citizens of Lagos State, especially motorists, to adhere strictly to the traffic law of the state in order not to run afoul of the law which has consequences. We must all have a positive attitude towards obeying the law of the state which was made to ensure orderliness and fast-paced socio-economic improvement of individuals, corporate entities and generality of the people.”

Sanity would return to our roads if every road user, most especially motorists, would adhere strictly to traffic laws and regulations of Lagos State. For all Lagos road users, travel time reduces as the economy of the state is bolstered, stress occasioned by traffic is quelled and then mental health improves, thereby increasing life expectancy.