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Apr 28, 2006

Motorists cautioned to obey traffic laws

Story PictureThis afternoon official opening ceremonies in Belmopan marked the start of the National Agriculture and Trade Show 2006. But as Belizeans from all over the country prepare to head to the capital city this weekend, News Five’s Kendra Griffith examines the popular but dangerous practice of riding in the back of pickup trucks.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
Hitchhiking is a popular practice in Belize but the fact is, travelling in the back of pickup trucks is illegal.

A.S.P. Francis Williams, Fmr. National Commander for Traffic
?The law speculates that no person should be travelling not properly seated in any type of vehicle. But in particular pickups, these vehicles must have fixed seat in the vehicle so that people is properly seated within the body of the vehicle and not on the edges of it.?

According to former National Commander for Traffic, A.S.P. Francis Williams, the police department does its best to crack down on the tradition. But Williams admits that the lack of reliable transportation has put a dent in law enforcement.

A.S.P. Francis Williams
?Because of the condition of the society right now, we tend to somewhat let drivers continue carrying passengers in the back of vehicles because of transportation needs across the country.?

According to the Department of Transport, in 2004 there were some thirty-eight thousand eight hundred and twenty-four licensed vehicles in the country; fifteen thousand of which were located in the Belize District alone. For that same year, seven hundred and forty-three injuries were recorded due to traffic accidents, fifty-six were fatalities.

There are no available numbers to show how many accident involved trucks, but according to Jorge McField, Claims Manager at R.F.G. Insurance, many policies don?t cover passengers in the pan.

Jorge McField, Claims Manager, R.F.G. Insurance
?People normally buy the ACT, because they buy what is required to operate on the road and the ACT policy is the minimum required. But we encourage our customers to buy the standard for a bit more. They get a bigger coverage, they get higher limits and the coverage is expanded for passenger liabilities travelling inside the vehicle.?

?There is no passenger liability for people who are in the back of the pan, but third party liability where we run into your vehicle and you have someone in the back, that?s a different issue.?

?If one of our clients should run into a vehicle that has a person in there, as a third party they are entitled to compensation, yes, but the?usually when the settlement is being made they are some mitigating factors that are brought into play which is, one, the person was not properly seated or had a restraining system while travelling in the back of the truck. So basically a deduction is made from the full settlement.?

The Social Security Board is also concerned about the number of motor vehicle accidents on Belize?s roads. S.S.B. officials say mishaps make up approximately thirty percent of all claims.

Dr. Ramon Figueroa, Dir. of Employment Injury/NHI, S.S.B.
?Traffic accident is a main concern for Social Security because we have a lot of claims dealing with drivers, people who work as drivers getting in accidents, but also people travelling in the back of pickups that ending up in major accidents.?

In 2000, S.S.B. extended its injury benefit programme to include accidents while travelling to and from work but, contributors have to follow the rules of the road.

Dr. Ramon Figueroa
?We are also bound by the laws of Belize, so we can?t just extend coverage without consideration for the general laws. So for example we might cover people going from home to work, but one of the stipulations is that they go in a legal mode of transportation.?

?If your employer is transporting you as the employee in the back of a pickup, then it?s not the employee?s fault, so we cover the employee, but the employer is liable for the charges or all the expenses and we can take the employer to court. But if people are travelling in the back of a pickup, according to the transport laws it?s illegal and if you do it on your own, like hitchhiking, then you are breaking the laws of Belize, therefore Social Security does not really cover you for that.?

The Social Security Board has launched an education campaign to curb the practice, but realize they?ve got a big job ahead of them.

Chandra Cansino, Sr. Employment Injury Coordinator
?It?s going to be tough because it?s a whole culture that we need to change. And unfortunately we the have people that violate the laws sometimes are the law enforcement officers because often times we see policemen being transported to and from work very unsafely in the back of pickup trucks. So hopefully we can work along with them and with the traffic enforcement officers to see how we could maybe lead by example.?

?The Occupational Safety and Health legislation should be passed in the near future. It has been drafted and when it is passed, then it will no longer be a situation where employers will have an option. Then, they will be legally bound to transport their employees safely.?

With thousand expected to attend the National Agriculture and Trade Show this holiday weekend, officials hope drivers will put safety first.

A.S.P. Francis William
?We will be having extreme extra patrols along both highways, Northern and Western and a part of the Hummingbird Highway in the area Belmopan and various vehicle checkpoints along the highway as well throughout the duration of the agriculture show to ensure that drivers stay within the confines of the law.?

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

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