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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 This will be used to exploit the people and must be repealed in my opinion.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.