In Lagos, there are traffic laws that govern the behaviour and operation of motorists. Many road users (mainly private or commercial drivers) are not familiar with the State’s traffic laws. It is when they are apprehended and made to face the consequences that they claim ignorance of the existing laws.
A law is a written or understood rule that concerns behaviour. Laws are generally made to curtail the excesses and lapses of man in every society. Laws promote sanity and serve as guidance for acceptable behaviour in any private or public setting. Without laws, there would be no order, parity, equity or even justice in society. A sane community needs laws in order to check people’s behaviour, 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 behaviour and operation of motorists. Many road users (mainly private or commercial drivers) are not familiar with the State’s 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 the way commercial bus drivers operate closely, one would discover that something is missing in all of them – orderliness. In an attempt to arrive their destinations 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 penalties (fines) for various traffic offences ranges from the payment of sums such as N20,000 to the outright seizure/confiscation of vehicles 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, include: Driving vehicles with doors left open, which attracts the fines of N20,000 and N30,000, respectively, for committing the offence for the first time and the addition of a month of community service for repeat offenders. Making illegal U-turns attracts a N20,000 fine for a first-time offender and N30,000 subsequently; the wrongful overtaking of other vehicles on the road is accompanied by a fine of N50,000 and N100,000 for committing the same offence subsequently. The physical assault of traffic officers comes with a N100,000 fine or six-months imprisonment, with an additional payment of compensation to the assaulted officer; while the fine for disobeying traffic control personnel is N20,000 and that of jumping the traffic light is N10,000.
Recently, on a live radio programme, a caller phoned in to ask how Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) personnel could tell if a vehicle owner uses it for commercial purposes. The General Manager of LASTMA, Engineer Jide Oduyoye said one can easily identify a private car owner who uses it for public purposes by simply asking for the name of the driver from any passenger in the vehicle. If they can’t get this correctly, then it means the driver and passangers are not acquainted of each other but are merely engaged in a transaction. The LASTMA G.M. further added that one good way of knowing if a private vehicle owner uses it for commercial purposes occurs when a traffic officer apprehends a driver, and all the passengers in his vehicle walk away without pleading or standing by the erring driver. The response given revealed a general method adopted by private vehicle owners, who use their vehicles for public purposes without following the proper or due process of registeration. Those who use private vehicles to convey passengers do so illegally because they are expected to duly register their vehicles for this purpose. Such private car owners are ripping the government off revenue expected to be generated by its relevant agencies. For instance, the commercial buses popularly called “Danfos” are expected to be painted in the yellow colour and their owners need to obtain route numbers before they can operate in Lagos. It would be recalled that the penalty for not painting a commercial vehicle in the approved colour, as enshrined in the Lagos State Traffic Law, attracts a fine of N25,000 or the vehicle would 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 comes with such offence.
As simple or light as the offence of the failure to display a reflective warning sign at the point of breakdown of a vehicle on the road may appear, the fine for this is N20,000 for the first offender and N30,000 for subsequent offenders. Some other offences that motorists easily overlook come with tough punishable penalties. Willful obstruction of the highway, or the causing of traffic obstructions by vehicles that have broken down and have been abandoned of on the road all attract the fine payment of N50, 000 for each offence.
The reasons why motorists flout traffic laws are not justifiable from a reasonably balanced point of view. Some vehicle operators drive in directions prohibited by law (against the traffic) claiming that they are in a 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 seatbelts because it does not allow them to sit comfortably on the wheel. In fact most drivers only use seatbelts out of the fear of arrest by LASTMA personnel, not for their own safety; they deliberately choose to risk death by failing to use the 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 a warning against the next time but certainly no traffic offence will go unpunished. When an offender begins to give reasons or excuses in the defence of his/her obedience of traffic laws, with the traffic personnel not giving a listening ear, people will assume the officials are not putting a human face to their work as they expect them to bend or relax the laws for offenders. The 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.
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