Safe driving initiative behind Police airport takeover
The conversion of the Fagali’i Airport into a vehicle test driving range and registration inspection site is part of the Samoa government's broader efforts to address the rising road toll.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said this when explaining the rationale behind the government's decision to shut the airstrip and move air services to the bigger Faleolo International Airport.
He said his concerns about the growing road toll and increasing incidences of drinking and reckless driving continues to increase.
The Prime Minister said that commercial drivers can use the facility to undergo driving tests once the site is converted and opened.
Tuilaepa reiterated that others should be held accountable for the rising toll.
“Night club owners should look into this, when their clients are about drive away while intoxicated putting everyone on the road in danger," he said.
"The same goes with the Police, they should be observant for drunk drivers on the road.”
“And so if there is anyone out there that has plans for the Fagali’i, now you know why the Government sees this property as an asset and the mission behind it is vital, we are talking about the safety of our people.”
The Prime Minister made the announcement on Saturday evening, after a car crash at the iconic Apia Town Clock on a busy Friday afternoon in which alcohol is believed to be a factor.
The crash involved a taxi vehicle and another car, which immediately drove off. Police arrived minutes afterwards and seal off the area, causing a traffic jam.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, the taxi driver, who refused to be named, said he was heading towards Savalalo when another vehicle hit his car.
“[There are] too many lives lost to drunk driving,” said the Prime Minister who is also the Minister of Police.
“We have seen firsthand the dangerous of drunk driving and reckless drivers and that’s why I decided to allocate this property for test driving courses.
“The Fagali’i Airport will be closed down and that compound will turn into the Police’s traffic unit and driving range and a vehicle registration inspection site.”
According to Tuilaepa, the safety of everyone, including tourists coming into the country should be the principal focus of any policy and taxi operators or owners should be held responsible if their cars are involved a traffic accident.
The Commissioner of Police, Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil, said he supports the move to reallocate the facility for traffic work.
"There are too many car crashes and hopefully with this property allocated for [they can be reduced]," he said.
In September, the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure Papali’i Niko Lee Hang has called for stiffer penalties for motorists driving under the influence of alcohol.
He said intoxicated drivers are a danger to other motorists and passengers and the laws should be changed to introduce stiffer penalties.
“It is very simple, if you consume alcohol you should not be driving. Driving while drunk will put everyone one the road in danger. It’s puzzling why people cannot just follow that simplest rule, don’t drink and drive,” he said.
Under the Road Traffic Ordinance Act Section 40 Subsection (5), a person who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol is liable to a jail term not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding 50 penalty units.
But the Minister believes there should be mandatory jail sentence for those who have become serial offenders.
“Intoxicated and impaired drivers are a very real danger for drivers and passengers on literally every roadway in the country. Accidents involving impaired drivers are not limited to one particular area or one type of roadway," he said.
“A drunk driver can cause an accident anytime, anywhere. Drivers should understand that one of the most dangerous obstacles that they will face while driving is the drunk driver.
“And it’s only a matter of time before someone who has stubbornly decided to drive after having too much to drink puts your life in jeopardy because of their poor decisions,” he added.
Several traffic accidents last month claimed four lives in total in November.
A crash in Vailoa claimed the life of a young father from Vaimoso and left another man with critical injuries, according to Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, who said that alcohol was the suspected cause of the accident.
In Savai’i two men died after a car crash in Falelima, Savai'i involving two vehicles owned by the same company.
The fatal accident was confirmed by Police Superintendent, Sala’a Sale Sala’a who is the Commanding Officer for the Savai’i Police outpost. Also in November in Leulumoega Uta a fatal car accident claimed the life of a passenger and left 3 more with serious injuries at Motootua hospital at the time.