Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Counter-Offensive in the Traffic War?

For 30 years or more, impunity has been an issue in Argentina's dysfunctional justice system. The most notorious examples, of course, were the military dictators and their subordinates who kidnapped and killed thousands of ordinary Argentines in the 1970s and early 1980s, but the phenomenon is far greater than that. On a daily basis, paradoxically, it often means indifferent law enforcement that allows scofflaws to get away with flagrantly dangerous traffic offenses, or corrupt officers who exact bribes instead of enforcing fines. Either way, lack of accountability has contributed to the second highest traffic fatality rate in the western hemisphere.

That's the background for Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri's introduction of a point system for Porteño drivers that could lead to suspension or revocation of licenses for the most reckless of them. The most draconian element of Macri's program would put anyone who runs a red light behind bars for one to five days. Taxi drivers are among the most critical of this provision, but the other night a taxi driver told me he thought "something has to be done" about the epidemic of dangerous driving.

Unfortunately, Macri does not operate in a vacuum. Many drivers reside in surrounding Buenos Aires province, which issues its own licenses, and the point system would not apply to them even though they frequently use city streets. The national government, which claims to support a point system, appears not to want Macri (on the opposite end of the political spectrum) to get credit for it, and the province opposes it actively.

Michael Soltys, a Buenos Aires Herald columnist, analyzes Macri's dilemma in a recent editorial. Soltys, though, seems to think that a point system in lieu of fines would prevent the police from soliciting bribes--but wouldn't a driver faced with losing his license and going to jail be particularly vulnerable to bribery?


SaltShaker said...

The real problem would be convincing porteños that the idea isn't to rack up as many points as possible and win a prize...

Wayne Bernhardson said...

You have a point, but apparently under Macri's system drivers start with 20 points and lose them, rather than starting with zero and gaining them (as in California, for instance). Of course, drivers here in BA might rack up an almost infinite number of negative points.

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