Parliament has passed the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which is targeted at protecting the unborn child on the roads.
The bill seeks to amend the Road Traffic Act, 2004 (Act 683) to proscribe acts that constitute dangerous driving and cycling that result in injury and or death of unborn children and related matters.
If assented to, the bill will ensure that the law recognises the loss of an unborn child as a separate and distinct loss and not only an injury suffered by a pregnant woman.
Besides, it will impose harsher punishment on drivers and cyclists whose actions cause injury or death to an unborn child.
Furthermore, it will impose a duty on a driver of a motor vehicle to, as soon as reasonably practical, report to the police station the occurrence of an accident that results in the death of an unborn child.
Unlike Act 683, the new law will lead drivers and riders whose recklessness results in the injury or death of an unborn child to receive a minimum jail term of three years and a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment when found guilty.
The bill was sponsored jointly by the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu; the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu; the Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Mr Ben Abdallah Banda, and the MP of Kumbungu, Mr Ras Mubarak.
It has become the first-ever Private Members’ Bill to be passed by Parliament after the House, under the leadership of Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, adopted the proposal for the enactment of the Private Members’ Bill on July 19, 2020.
The adoption made the introduction of bills in Parliament for consideration no longer the sole prerogative of the Executive through ministers of state. With that, individual MPs who are not ministers of state, as well as private citizens, can introduce or initiate bills on the floor of the House for consideration.
A memorandum accompanying the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill said the Road Traffic Act 2004 (Act 683), which was subsequently amended Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2008, generally provided for the protection of children.
Section 14, for example, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road when a child of five or under five is on the front seat of the motor vehicle.
“Information from the police and healthcare facilities indicates that a considerable number of women have lost their pregnancies as a result of road traffic crashes.
“Also, Act 638 does not impose a duty on a driver of a motor vehicle to report the death of an unborn child on the occurrence of a road traffic crash and it is impossible to charge an accused person for the death of an unborn child,” it said.
The memorandum noted that the absence of a duty to report the death of an unborn child in a road traffic crash inadvertently resulted in the absence of data on the subject which might be relevant for national development planning.
It cited international practice where state laws from Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska and South Carolina in the United States defined an unborn child as a living organism of the species of homo sapiens in the uterus from conception onward to fertilisation “Thus, there are penalties for persons who cause injury or death to an unborn child in those jurisdictions,” it said.
The memorandum cited best international practices from the United States and Australia, which have introduced the specific fetal homicide laws in 1997 under which a driver of a motor vehicle might be charged with a separate offence of killing an unborn child, the sanction for which is a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“A driver commits an offence if the driver drives dangerously on the road that results in the death of a person, including an unborn child; that driver is, on summary conviction, liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than three years and not more than seven years.
“Similarly, a person who rides a cycle dangerously on a road that results in the death of an unborn child commits an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a term of imprisonment of not less than three years and not more than seven years,” it said.