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LAGOS NEW TRAFFIC LAW: 11 MORE VITAL THINGS YOU MUST KNOW

I wrote an article on the seven vital things you must know about the Lagos new traffic law a couple of days ago.  Since then, I have been besieged by people asking for more clarifications and analysis of other areas of the law. So I decided to add eleven more key issues worthy of note to you as a driver on Lagos roads. There is clearly no substitute to reading the over 80 pages of the law yourself, but I will try and highlight eleven more salient things you must know about this well intentioned but badly drafted law.

  1. Smoking is prohibited while driving. Schedule 1, item 10 make you liable to a N20K fine for a first offence of smoking while driving. So you have to suspend the habit until you arrive your destination if you are not to infringe the law.
  2. There are lots of new restrictions on motorcycles in the new law. A typical example is item 21 of schedule 1 that makes it an offence to use a horn designed for a car on a motorcycle. So all motorcycle riders should read this law in full or obtain legal advise on its provisions. It has a lot of new liabilities for motorcycle riders in the state.
  3. Tailgating an emergency vehicle is now an offence based on item 24 in schedule 1. So think twice before trying to sneak behind an ambulance when you are stuck in traffic. You could be N20K worse of for a first offence.
  4. You are liable to pay N50,000 fine if your car breaks down on Lagos roads and causes obstruction. In addition item 36 of schedule 1 also make you liable for the cost of then towing your car away from where it breaks down; and this starts from N10,000.  While I can understand the need to pay for the towing away of a broken down vehicle; I cannot understand why Lagosians must now pay N50K as fine for a broken down car. By nature many broken down cars cause traffic obstruction. That is because they are unexpected and unplanned incidents. But it is now a traffic offence in Lagos for your car to break down. This will be used to exploit the people and must be repealed in my opinion.
  5. In addition to 4 above, Failure to display reflective warning sign at the car breakdown point attract an additional N20K fine. This is stated in item 42 of schedule 1. It seems drivers of old vehicles are now in trouble in Lagos. But get yourself a reflective warning sign (Triangle) if you want to avoid this penalty.
  6. It is now an offence to drive a Right Hand vehicle on Lagos road. Schedule 3, item 28 prohibits driving of right hand vehicles in Lagos; without giving any exemption. So I wonder how you get your imported right hand car to the mechanic village to have it converted without breaking the law. I guess you may need to tow the car from the port. So importers beware.
  7. It is now an offence to drive without a Spare Tyre.  Item 36 of Schedule 3 makes it an offence to drive without a spare tyre in your car. SO beware; otherwise you are liable to a fine of N20,000 for a first offence.
  8. Any staff of Lagos State Ministry of Transport can technically enforce any of the provisions of this law including arrest and impound of car. The law defines Authorised Officer very broadly indeed as including LASTMA, State Vehicle Inspection Service officials and any staff of the Ministry of Transportation. This is a recipe for abuse and confusion and a mischief charter. So beware.
  9. Contradiction exists on the issue of production of drivers licence on demand. Schedule IV section 15(p) states that a driver will have 24hrs to produce his licence at a designated office in Lagos. But this contradicts other sections of the law. With this contradiction in place, I will carry my licence around if I were you. Implementation will depend on the quality of LASTMA official you get.
  10. There is no explicit prohibition of eating or drinking while driving in my reading of the law. But Schedule 1, item 40 makes it an offence to “count money or otherwise engage in other activities when driving”. What exactly are other activities we are not told? So this is another broad provision that can be interpreted at the discretion of Lagos state official involve. Who draft laws like this? With so many vague provisions and broad interpretation of possible infringement. It is the worst legal drafting I have ever seen.
  11. Every private vehicle 5yrs old (from date of manufacture); must submit to an annual roadworthy test and obtain MOT certificate from Lagos Ministry of Transport. This certificate must be carried in the car at all times as failure to produce it will be an offence under Schedule IV section 11. No exemption is stated for visitors to Lagos from other states.

It is quite apparent that there are many good provisions in this law; but its bad drafting and poor use of language (added to an overzealous LASTMA) means it is going to be hell for many drivers in Lagos. But I reserve my greatest pity for visitors to Lagos from other states in Nigeria; given that many of these restrictions apply only in Lagos out of 36 states.

Lessons have not been learnt by the state government from the problems besetting the poor implementations of previous legislations, like the Tax laws; yet more are being created. There is little independent adjudication available and the officials are always reluctant to use the established dispute resolution afforded by the courts in their quest for speedy collection and meet their targets.

If Governor Fashola focuses purely on revenue targets being met and not on how they are making it happen; then he is burying his head in the sand. And as for LASTMA and its shenanigans; a whole book can be written about the atrocities of its officials. This is made more petrifying when you realise that many of the LASTMA officials were the Area Boys and Thugs of yesterday who got the job purely on the basis of political patronage; without much training and clearly without paradigm re-orientation. LASTMA Officers covering road signs indicating one way road limitation and then hiding behind trees to catch unsuspecting motorists. Lagosians whose cars breakdown on the road only to have unsympathetic LASTMA officials tow the car to their impound for obstruction. The list goes on and on. And the stipulated fines in some of these legislations for road offences are iniquitous. When a law imposes a fine of N20,000 and above (which is more than basic monthly salary) for simple road contravention; it is an invitation to corruption for the officialdom and penury for the people. The implementation realities are just wrong; regardless of the intentions of the government.

The state government should stop enacting any new legislation (in these areas) for a period (except there is an emergency) and focus its attention on getting the implementation of existing statutes right.  Independent Tribunals should be established if need be to facilitate an independent oversight of disputes on the road traffic and on tax and planning matters. People should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. They should be accorded the respect they deserve in a democratic society. And definitely more officials should be brought to book for acting beyond their powers and abuse of their office.

The state government need to win the hearts and minds of Lagosians if it is to succeed in its noble dream of transforming the state. So simply reeling out more laws will not succeed if proper implementation is not the focus of executive attention by the governor.

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7 VITAL THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT LAGOS NEW TRAFFIC LAW.

The new traffic laws in Lagos has generated a lot of news footprint over the past few weeks and I also wrote about it in a previous article on the need for effective implementation to avoid chaos on Lagos roads.  I am a fan of Governor Fashola and I believe he is well intentioned. But I also feel he is either misinformed or disinterested as to the level of atrocities committed daily by his henchmen and officials under the various agencies he has set up over the years. For instance; LASTMA is an agency many Lagosians will agree is needed but majority will also disapprove of the way it is currently managed and the manner in which they constitute themselves as terror to many law abiding Lagosians.

So to be more constructive and to help Lagos motorists; I decided to put on my Legal hat and read in full the new traffic law of Lagos; and here are the seven main areas and issues people need to be aware of about the new traffic law in practice.

  1. The new Law allows you to make and receive calls while driving; despite the erroneous information to the contrary printed in the media and misinformation by some government officials. Item 39 of Schedule 1 of the new law makes it an offence the “Making or receiving phone calls when driving without Hands Free”. So as long as you are using a hands-free kit and you use voice activated calling system; you are within the law and have not committed any offence.
  2. There is Danger of Double Jeopardy prosecution; this is contrary to natural justice in this jurisdiction. Section 20, sub section 1 and 2 creates the danger of prosecuting motorist more than once for the same offence. This is either bad legal drafting or an intentional invasion of citizens rights. Section 20 implies that if a person is charged with Careless or Inconsiderate driving; and the court is of the opinion that the offence is Not Proven; then the court can entertain the same charge again immediately after the first case. Although the law gives a small get out clause for the courts by stating: “…the Court shall, if it considers that he is prejudiced in his defence by reason of the new charge being so preferred, adjourn the hearing”. This section needs to be redrafted for clarity; but motorists need to be aware of this provision.
  3. The Law criminalizes driving while drunk; but there is no objective measurement of what being “Drunk” is. Section 21, (1) and (2) of the new law, refers to driving while under the influence of Alcohol or Drugs as being criminally liable. The problem is there is no reference to how to objectively determine these things.  The law simply stated that: “Any person who when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway is under the influence of alcoholic drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of such vehicle, shall be liable on conviction…”. This is a highly subjective provision. How do you determine the level of impairment necessary to be liable. There is no mention of a drink drive limit or the use of any breathalyzer. So as a motorist you will have to go by the judgment of LASTMA and other officials; many of whom are drunk and drugged up themselves while on duty. This is a license for official abuse; hence the Lagos State government should be more precise on its provisions here to avoid uneven application of the law and subjective harassment of Lagosians.
  4. LASTMA or State Officials can now arrest a motorist if you do not produce your Drivers Licence on Demand. Section 28 of the new law gives state officials power to arrest without warrant anyone who is suspected of having committed an offence, who fails to produce a drivers licence on demand. So it is now illegal to drive in Lagos without having your drivers licence physically with you. This is the hallmark of a police state. I am sure the state government will refer to section 22 of the law, which refers to proof of identity when arrested. That section refers to “any other evidence of identity acceptable to the officer”.So what exactly is that? What is acceptable to one officer may not be to another. This is quite alarming. So be aware; you are better advised to hold your drivers licence in your wallet anytime you drive in Lagos to avoid undue harassment; unless this provision is amended.
  5. Owners will be liable for un-roadworthy Commercial vehicles even if it was taken without the owner’s permission or knowledge.  This is the most unfair provision of the entire law in my opinion.  So if your wayward Cousin takes your taxi car on a joyride without your consent or knowledge; you will still be criminally liable if your car is found to be unroadworthy; if you were aware it was in that state before it was taken without your consent; according to Sections 31 to 34 of the new law.  So if you park your unroadworthy commercial vehicle in your private garage; there is no law broken. But if someone takes the car unto the public highway without your knowledge or consent; you are criminally liable for your car being unroadworthy on a public road. This is madness. It is looking like Fashola has invented a strict liability crime here. Owners should have been indemnified if they can proof they were not aware or nor give consent to their vehicle to be taken; regardless of the state of the vehicle.  There is potential for unfair convictions on this ground and the state should look at amending these sections of the law. It seems the only way out of liability is to make sure your commercial vehicles are always in roadworthy conditions even if it is not in use and on your private land.
  6. The Commissioner for Transport has too many secondary powers of enforcement and can single-handedly change many traffic enforcement provisions. In addition to the noted provisions of the new law; the commissioner is empowered by section 38, to make vast changes and introduce new crime and enforcement instrument without recourse to the House of Assembly. This is called secondary legislation powers. For instance, section 38 (1) (q) gives the commissioner the power to change the speed limit in any area of Lagos state and criminalise those that exceed it. So the worry here is that these powers should be closely monitored to avoid abuse. You could be committing a crime driving at 40km per hour on a Lagos road because the commissioner changed the speed limit yesterday from 30km per hour. Any exercise of the secondary powers MUST be fully publicized to inform the public of developments and time must be given before changes take effect. The saving grace on this provision is that its use can be subject to Judicial Review  as it is an executive order rather than the primary Act of the Legislature. So jobs for the lawyers there.
  7. State government officials can be dismissed if they are proven to Demand or Receive any personal gratification in cash or kind according to Section 37 (1) and (2). This is a provision I want all Lagosians to exploit to the maximum by making sure all encounters with LASTMA or any state officials on the road is secretly recorded by video or audio. You must get your evidence and let us get the bad eggs out of uniform on our roads. So an official is liable to dismissal if he demands for bribe or accepts it when offered by the motorist. This is a good provision of the law that motorists can use to help sanitise the LASTMA bandits terrorizing honest Lagosians on a daily basis. As LASTMA management are known for backing their staff regardless of public accusations; watertight evidence will be needed to put pressure of them to act according to the provisions of the law by dismissing all officers that are found to be taking or demanding bride.

As you can see from the foregoing; there are areas to worry about in the new law and there are areas to commend the government for. So I will seriously admonish the government to review the entire law in practice in six months time to amend sections that are not working or too vague (of which there are a few) and make the law more precise and clearer to all concerned. I trust you have found this article useful.

Accordingly the mantra in Lagos state governmental institutions at the moment should be people friendly implementation. In 90s when Tony Blair became the Prime minister of the United Kingdom; he was asked what would be the focus of his new administration. His response was; Education, Education, Education. Thus emphasising the focus on Educational transformation in England schools. Governor Fashola should learn from that and make his own focus now to be; Implementation, Implementation, Implementation. Let us get right the laws that are already on the books, implement fully, study their effects and consequences; make adjustments as necessary, before more legislation is pilled on an already recalcitrant, over reaching and perhaps overworked government machinery.

We all support the drive for a new Lagos and ultimately a new Nigeria; but we should take care that we do not try to get there at a cost to the health, wellbeing and morale of the people. Nigerians already have enough to cope with, please don’t add any more aggravation Mr Governor.

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