By Kalafi Moala
23 September 2020: The main streets of Nuku’alofa have had Police checkpoints in the past several days, checking to make sure drivers and front seat passengers are wearing seatbelts. They also hand out notices about the new Traffic Act 2020 which has been in effect from 31 August 2020.
The holding of a mobile phone with at least one hand by a driver is also a new traffic offense. It is expected that these new traffic laws will improve traffic safety in the island kingdom.
It is now law in Tonga for drivers of every motor vehicle to wear their seat-belt while driving, as well as front seat passengers over 12. The Blue Notices that have been handed out throughout September are notices only. It is to give time for users to adapt to the new laws.
Some vehicles obviously do not have seatbelts or have broken seatbelts. There have been media advertising of mechanical places where vehicle seatbelts can be fixed. It is estimated there could be up to 20% of vehicles in Tonga that are without or have broken seatbelts.
It was only a matter of time for these traffic laws to be enacted in Tonga. Most countries in the Pacific have these laws in place already. Drivers who have spent some time overseas are familiar with seatbelt use.
From 1 October 2020 any person found in violation of the new seat-belt and mobile phone laws will be issued with an actual infringement notice. The penalty for not wearing your seat-belt or using a mobile phone while driving is $500.
And as a move to encourage overseas drivers in Tonga, the requirement to have a Tongan drivers license has been lifted. Earlier this year, Department of Transportation, announced that holders of foreign drivers license can drive in Tonga.
Tourists who may visit Tonga, and wish to rent a car, do not have to get a Tongan driver’s license. There were complaints previously made by some tourists visiting Tonga only for 3 days or so and yet could not use their foreign license. They had to obtain a Tongan license even for just 3-days use. But now you can use your foreign license.