Beware the Roads of Lagos

Heegnoranz” can certainly not be “hegscuze” for anyone that falls prey (metaphor intended) to the new traffic law of Lagos State. It has been so well-publicised that one hopes this manner of publicity will follow documents of accountability of the government. The law is available for download here, in case anyone’s still looking for a copy.

 

I have suggested elsewhere that draconian laws may be the drastic measure needed to get us back in line but, given LASTMA’s penchant for sacrificing the spirit of the law on the altar of its letter and the 1000% increase in applicable fines (in many instances), I may very well rue my words.

 

So what does the law do? No, it doesn’t ban eating or drinking while driving, at least not specifically (closest I came across was “counting money or otherwise engaged in other activities when driving”). It does however, like its sister Act (*chuckles*) the LASTMA Law of 2004, prohibit smoking while driving. I have set out a table below, comparing some of the old offences and penalties with the newer version. You should probably skip down there if you want to avoid the boring legalese that follows.

 

The consensus on the law is that the punishments appear to go too far. Apart from this, I think it short on the definitions of some offences. For instance, a driver is liable upon conviction for dangerous driving, to a fine of N100,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment. An offence with such a hefty penalty should not be left solely to the discretion of the LASTMA of today. (See the UK Road Traffic Act and its definition of dangerous driving).

 

Section 20, on “careless and inconsiderate driving” also throws another curve ball. Subsection (2) appears to give the court the power to direct the accused driver to be charged with a different charge if the court is of the opinion that the original charge has not been proved. This would appear to go contrary to the long-establisheddouble jeopardy rule in criminal law. Apart from being a principle of common law, “double jeopardy” is also prohibited by section 36(9) of the constitution, which reads-

“No person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court.”

 

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is rightly prohibited but, while the law gives LASTMA the power to test blood and urine, no maximum limit is stipulated. You may be charged with this offence if it seems to the LASTMA official that the extent of your inebriation is such that you are “incapable of having proper control of the vehicle.” This sounds reasonable enough but in actual fact, it leaves all the power in the traffic authority’s hands.

 

There is a fine for abandonment of vehicles. There is a related fine for failing to notify the police or LASTMA that a vehicle has been abandoned near your premises. The law doesn’t tell us what constitutes abandonment, however. If my car breaks down and I have to leave it by the roadside until my mechanic is available, after how long can it be deemed “abandoned”? 12 hours? 24 hours? 48 hours? Whatever LASTMA feels constitutes abandonment?

 

The motorcycle-related provisions of the law also appear to apply to ALL motorcycles. No distinction is made between private and commercial motorcycles. Thus, technically, LASTMA could arrest a sports bike (“power bike”) rider for being on a route on which motorcyclists have been banned (see page 29 of the law). It must be pointed out that the new restrictions on motorcycle traffic (permits, maximum number of passengers, etc) seem quite sound, however.

 

It is also an offence for your vehicle to break down on the road and cause an obstruction to traffic. No, that’s not a typo. And you’d be fined N50,000 and still have to pay the cost of towing, Would it not be more reasonable for the State to provide free recovery services to a non-obstructive point, like LCC does on the Lekki-Epe expressway (I don’t believe I just paid LCC a compliment!)?

 

The question remains though, as to why the fines have been increased so dramatically. Many of these offences already existed, suggesting that a lack of enforcement (and not the mildness of penalties) is the reason why traffic remains chaotic in Lagos. Are the enormous fines a stealth tax or fund-raising initiative?  It would have also helped the considerably large smoker population if the policy behind banning smoking was properly articulated (even though this offence was listed in the 2004 law). Lagos would seem to be the first city in the world to impose such a ban. Perhaps the purpose of the law is even to reduce traffic by making Lagosians too frightened to drive.

 

In any event, safer driving will ultimately be a good thing and one earnestly hopes that LASTMA and the VIO will adopt a common-sense, non-predatory approach to the enforcement of the new regulations.

Be safe, everyone!

 

TABLE OF [SELECTED] TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS & PENALTIES

2004 provisions are in black; 2012 are in red

 

 

 

VIOLATION

PENALTY
POINT FINE

N

ADDITIONAL
Driving without a valid Driver’s Licence 2/2 2,000/[no fine stated] Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the licence.
Learning to drive on a major highway 3/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Dislodge Driver/ payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the licence.
Driving with fake number plates 4/4 4,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Impound Vehicle/imprisonment of 3 years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving a vehicle with unauthorised or defective reflective number plate 2/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Impound Vehicle/imprisonment of 3 years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving without a valid MOT Test Certificate 2   Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the certificate.
Driving without a valid roadworthiness certificate 2   Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the certificate.
       
Violation of route by commercial vehicle 2/2 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000
       
Disobeying traffic control personnel or traffic signs 1/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000
Disobeying traffic lights 4 5,000  
Failure to yield to right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing 4/3 5,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout 2/2 2,500/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs 2 2,000/N100,000 or 2 years imprisonment or both Impound Vehicle
Smoking while driving 1/2 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Tailgating an emergency vehicle 4/3 5,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure of slow-moving vehicle to keep to the right lane 2/2 2,500/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Assault on a Traffic Officer(physical) 4 5,000/[no fine stated] Prosecute in court/Imprisonment for a term of three (3) years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law [i.e. “one-way”]/Neglect of traffic directions 4 25,000/[forfeiture of vehicle to the state] Impound/ 1st Offender – one (1) year imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the State; 2nd and subsequent offender (3) years imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the state; offenders to have data and biometrics captured.
Bullion vehicle driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law 4/5 50,000/ [Forfeiture of vehicle] Impound/Imprisonment for a term of three (3) years, or both fine and imprisonment
Illegal U-Turns 2/3 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Driver Training
Making or receiving phone calls when driving 2/2 2,500/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Counting money, or [being] otherwise engaged in other activities when driving 2 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure to display reflective warning triangle sign [i.e. “C-Caution”] at point of breakdown 4 10,000  
Causing obstruction on highway if broken down 2 N50,000.00; cost of towing
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