Lawrence Scott, former Minister of Transport (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
A few days ago, when it was again time to sift through my pile of paper clippings to weed out those of faded relevance, I found one from November 19, 2021, where The Royal Gazette reported that Lawrence Scott, now the former transport minister, thought Bermuda’s road death toll was 16 in 10.5 months; i.e. 18.3 per year – were not eligible to cause a state of national emergency.
Mr. Scott was clearly concerned as he was, and everyone should be; and he informed us that his ministry has taken measures to reduce the number of victims by 25%; i.e. 13.7 per year. With that, Bermuda’s road fatality rate per 100,000 would indeed be considerably better than France, Britain, Germany, Canada, the United States, Mexico and many more. others.
A further reduction would be welcome but would not be easy to achieve. Mr Scott saw at least some of this difficulty in “our driving culture”.
Our behavior what? Culture? who is according to Webster’s full version “…improvement, refinement, or development by study, training, and refinement of mind, emotions, manners, taste, etc., including the result thereof.”
Cicero defined “culture” as the cultivation of the soul as the highest possible ideal for human development.
To make sure we know what we’re talking about here, let me first try to list what motorists actually do in Bermuda:
• Exceeding the speed limit (21mph = 35km/h; 50km/h is often tolerated)
• Wandering, thus hindering the fluidity of traffic
• Text or call while driving
• Do not indicate a change of direction (tip: watch where the front wheels are turning!)
• The driver’s front paw hangs out of the window (instead of having both hands on or near the steering wheel)
• Let the lights flash (especially bicycles)
• Run red lights (some level crossings are notorious for this)
• Not waiting behind an obstacle (e.g. parked car) despite oncoming traffic
• Driving with two wheels on the center line, also and especially in bends
• Overtaking on the left side (mainly bicycles)
• Weave through traffic (mostly bicycles)
• Transport of toddlers standing on the scooter
• Let the hind legs hang down (bicycles)
• Ride a bike only on your rear wheel
• Two bikers riding side by side in deep conversation
• Two or three push bikes riding side by side
• Parking of a car in two parking spaces
• Double parking (with and without driver by car)
• Parking at the double yellow lines
• Leaving the engine of a parked car running, often without a driver inside
• Stop at traffic lights after the stop line
• Stop on pedestrian crossings (and even past)
• Stop at the top of a hill
• Stop to chat
• Block portals or join streets
• Driving in the dark without lights
• Driving with faulty lights
• Driving with brake lights that do not work
• Driving with high beams, although there is oncoming traffic
• Driving under any form of influence
• Driving with an expired license or even without a license
• Driving without insurance coverage
• Let the engine oil leak
• Thick exhaust fumes from poorly tuned engines
• Driving a noisy or very noisy vehicle
Did I forget something? Most likely. Because we can’t think of everything, given the creativity of our motorists. These things happen all the time and everywhere; I guess one could witness about two-thirds of the above on a single trip from Hamilton to St George’s.
But nothing in the compilation seemed to fit Cicero’s or Webster’s definition. Perhaps Mr. Scott would have used a certain nuance of the term “culture” that I had not been aware of. Since English is not my native language, I thought it best to consult the Internet.
And there, I found a third definition, less idealistic: “Culture encompasses the social behavior, norms, knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, abilities and habits of individuals in human societies. Humans acquire culture through learning processes of enculturation and socialization.
That’s what Mr. Scott must have been thinking. As it covers everything in the list above, the minister was right after all. It’s so satisfying for citizens to find proof that their government did something right.
The police have tried for decades to help this sad state of affairs. And they have a tough job because much of what motorists do has become so commonplace as if it were the accepted norm. The police work special operations like Vega, through which, according to their statistics, the number of traffic offenses has decreased. I’m sure their numbers are correct, although my personal “feeling” is that the stats show no tangible improvement.
Sometimes the police focus on certain roads, with advanced information to the public. It’s definitely a good idea; it allows casual offenders a safe detour and leaves only the die-hard guys on this road, the ones they really like to catch. It also reduces the risk of inadvertently excluding a member from the legal or political strata of society; it is still very embarrassing, and may require remarkable jurisprudential contortions to get them out again.
But following Mr. Scott’s variation on the meaning of culture to its logical end holds a very pleasant surprise: what has always been so negatively called “breaking the law” now turns out to be in reality cultural events — thousands of them performed daily by our motorists! What an abundance of culture on our roads!
Wow! How wrong I had always been when I thought we were sinking helplessly in an orgy of traffic violations.