Local traffic and politics - some interesting parallels

RG Opinion (Oct. 20, 2004)

Local traffic and politics - some interesting parallels

The way we behave behind the wheels of our vehicles says a lot about the direction in which Bermuda is heading.

Aggressive muscling to the front of the traffic queue, forcing of other vehicles to the side, cutting across the centre-line or chronic double-parking are all traffic manifestations of a problem not confined to the roads.

It’s never fun to be seen as the rules stickler, and we all break some of the rules of the road sometimes, but our driving attitudes reveal a much bigger concern. There’s a growing mentality in Bermuda that rules apply to everyone else, a “those don’t apply to me” mindset. It’s everywhere. Our roads have simply become the best place to observe this in action.

Six months ago, at the Bermuda Institute hosted town hall meeting on gang-violence, we were given an insight into the dangers of this way of thinking. A young man – probably representing the views of many of his peers, as well as others – said, “Politicians are all corrupt”, prompting Cabinet Minister Dale Butler to leap to his colleagues’ defense.

While all politicians aren’t corrupt, this young man put his finger on an important issue. Corruption amongst our elected leaders is on the rise, and he publicly called the Government on it. “Why should I follow the rules when you don’t?” he was arguing. That’s a very good question.

The disregard for laws and the lowering of standards have emerged as fundamental Government principles, PLP doctrine in fact. It’s a doctrine which is reinforced and continually practiced at the highest levels of our Government - with an impressive lack of remorse.

This style of governing crept up on us slowly, starting with size laws don’t apply cars for the whole Cabinet. Before long it had exploded to include the delaying of a flight for a late arriving Minister, the Transport Minister blowing by US airport security, a failure to account for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars at Berkeley, criminal in everything but name behaviour at the BHC and the disregarding of the Parliamentary Code of Conduct with Cabinet level financial relationships with the BHC.

As if this wasn’t enough, those we entrust to create and enforce the rules simply ignore existing practices and procedures to limit their abuses of power as petty inconveniences. The Police and the courts appear unwilling or incapable of holding anyone accountable for this behaviour. We’re seeing sound financial practices undermined with those who hold our Government accountable and advocating for the taxpayer – most notably the Auditor – ridiculed and marginalized.

Why the community is surprised at this prevailing attitude manifesting itself on our roads is itself astounding.

On a daily basis we see people applying PLP doctrine to their riding habits. It’s a regular occurrence to witness people riding their bikes without helmets, ‘undertaking’ on narrow roads, overtaking on blind corners, running red lights, cutting off other vehicles and weaving all over the roads – as if the law doesn’t apply to them.

It’s not uncommon to see our tourists petrified, hugging the left-most side of the left lane while cars and bikes buzz by them. Tourists are a group of people we complain we don’t have enough of, but treat like obstacles on the road. That’s not a very welcoming way to treat the decreasing volume of visitors to our island.

In addition to a general disregard for rules and laws, there is also a rising lack of consideration for our fellow Bermudians. Our sense of community, which existed for so many years and served us so well, threatens to be lost to an emerging cult of the individual.

Dangerous overtaking, bikes stacking up across two lanes at stop lights, bikes overtaking other bikes already in the “third lane” are all indicative of a belief that others should just get out of the way – resulting in an undermining of good order and common courtesy. We simply don’t treat or value each other as we used to.

Mutual respect has been superceded by a sense that our fellow Bermudians are simply obstacles worthy of being run over. Our cherished Bermudian friendliness is in danger of being overtaken by outright hostility. The roads are simply the most visible manifestation of the decline of respect for order and civility in our community.

So when the PLP hold their “crisis talks” on road safety, they might want to convene them in their exclusive size rules don’t apply to me cars. The first order of business should be to glance at themselves in their rear view mirrors, lead by example and change their own behaviour.

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