A law is a written or understood rule that concerns behavior. Laws are generally made to curtail the excesses and lapses of man in every society. Laws promote sanity and serve as guidance for acceptable behavior in any private or public setting. Without laws, there would be no orderliness, parity, equity or even justice in the society. A sane community needs laws in order to check people’s behavior in accordance with the norms that are obtainable in the society. Laws also help to protect human rights and liberties against abuses by other people. It is through laws that standards are set and certain actions are regarded improper in our society today. There are different types of laws – business laws, contract laws, regulatory laws, prohibition laws, personal laws, traffic laws and many others.
In Lagos, there are traffic laws that govern the behavior and operation of motorists. Many road users (mainly private or commercial drivers) are not familiar with the State traffic laws. It is when they are apprehended and made to face the consequences that they claim ignorance of the existing laws. And when caught on the wrong side of the law, ignorance is no excuse. Traffic offenders are usually made to face the wrath of the law in accordance with the provisions of traffic law.
If one observes and monitors closely the way commercial bus drivers operate, one would discover that something is missing in all of them – orderliness. In an attempt to arrive their destination hurriedly to pick more passengers and make more money, they drive recklessly and impatiently thereby disobeying traffic laws which may lead to avoidable road crashes.
The severity of punishment or penalty (fine) for various traffic offences ranges from N20, 000 to seizure/confiscation of vehicle or imprisonment and compulsory training at the Lagos State Driving Institute as the case may be. Each traffic offence carries its own penalty. According to the Lagos State Traffic Laws 2018 as amended, some of the traffic offences and penalties among others are: Driving vehicles with doors left open carries N20, 000 and N30, 000 respectively for committing offence at first and subsequently plus one month community service; illegal U-turn comes with N20, 000 fine for first offender and N30, 000 subsequently; wrongful overtaking of other vehicles on the road is accompanied by a fine of N50, 000 and N100, 000 for same offence subsequently; physical assault on traffic officer comes with N100, 000 fine or six-month imprisonment with an additional payment of compensation to the assaulted officer; fine for disobeying traffic control personnel is N20, 000 and that of traffic light is N10, 000.
The other day, on a live Radio program, a caller phoned in to ask how the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) personnel could tell if a vehicle owner uses it for commercial purpose or not. The General Manager of LASTMA, Engineer Jide Oduyoye, said one can easily identify a private car owner who uses it for public purpose by simply asking for the name of the driver from any passenger in the bus. If they can’t tell, then it means they do not know themselves anywhere. LASTMA G.M. further added that one good way to know if a private vehicle owner uses it for commercial purpose or not is, if a traffic officer apprehends a driver of such vehicle, all the passengers would walk away without pleading or standing by the erring driver. The response given revealed a general method adopted by private vehicle owners who use them for public purposes without following proper or due process of registering. Those who use private vehicles to convey passengers do so illegally because they are expected to duly register their vehicles for such purpose. These private car owners are ripping off the government purse and shortchanging the revenue expected to be generated by concerned agencies. For instance, buses popularly called “Danfo” are expected to be painted yellow and owners must obtain route numbers before they can operate in Lagos. It would be recalled that the penalty for not painting a commercial vehicle in approved colors, as enshrined in the Lagos State Traffic Law, is a fine of N25, 000 or the vehicle be impounded for painting enforcement before release. Most private (unpainted) vehicle owners who use their vehicles for commercial purposes are probably unaware of the penalty that follows such offence.
As simple or light as the offence of failure to display reflective warning sign at a point of breakdown of a vehicle on the road may appear, the fine is N20, 000 for first offender and N30, 000 for subsequent offender. Some other offences that motorists easily overlook come with tough punishable penalties. Willful obstruction on the highway, or if vehicle is causing traffic obstruction due to breakdown and abandoning vehicles on the road all come with fine payment of N50, 000 for each offence.
Reasons why motorists flout traffic laws are not justifiable from a reasonably balanced viewpoint. Some vehicle operators drive in the direction prohibited by law (driving against traffic) claiming they are in hurry or that the other routes approved by law are blocked due to heavy vehicular movement. Most public bus operators also say they do not like using seatbelt because it does not allow them sit comfortably on wheel. In fact most drivers only use seatbelt for fear of arrest by LASTMA personnel, not for their own safety; they deliberately choose to kiss death by failing to use seatbelt.
Every motorist (private or commercial driver) is duty-bound to get familiar with the Lagos State traffic laws because ignorance would not be entertained as an excuse. The fine or punishment for a first offender for contravening traffic laws may be light and not severe in order to serve as warning deterrence next time but certainly no traffic offence will go unpunished. When an offender begins to give reasons or excuses in defense of their disobedience to traffic laws with traffic personnel not giving any listening ears, people will assume they are not putting human face to their work as they expect them to bend or relax the laws. Truth is that, if the fines are not exorbitant, motorists will not take traffic offences seriously.
Balance, fairness and civility must always be deployed by traffic personnel in enforcing laws and in their dealings with all motorists and road users in general to ensure justice and equity to every traffic offender when apprehended. It is therefore important for all motorists to always adhere strictly to traffic laws to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law.
Kayode Ojewale is of the Public Affairs Unit of LASTMA