Traffic menace: Discipline errant motorists
Writing of this article is prompted by the determination given to the
police on January 25, 2008, by Chief Justice Sarath N Silva ordering it
to put down all illegal sign boards of speed limits put up on main roads
as hapless motorists were being forced to either face prosecution or pay
bribes to get away.
This was due to existence of different sign boards giving various
speed limits though the speed limit in the city should be 56 kmph and 72
kmph outside the city. This determination was given in a fundamental
Traffic offences on the rise
The Supreme Court will normally act when an alleged injustice or
offence is brought before it. How many such occurrences that have not
been reported to it? The Police is generally held responsible for
observance of the traffic rules and bringing the errant drivers into
A few of some other notable traffic violations are as follows:
(a) Non-observance of the traffic signal lights (Though this practice
is one on the wane now due to strict watch by traffic police, some
motorists do it when they know that the police is not posted at such
places. It is the duty of the motorist to follow such signal signs, with
or without the police on the scene.
(b) Non-observance of the zebra crossings (This practice has become
the order of the day. It has become a calculated risk for the
pedestrians, particularly the school children, to go through the zebra
In many countries, say, for example, Britain and the USA, motorists
stop their vehicles when they observe that some pedestrians are about to
alight to a zebra crossing.
One risk associated in Sri Lanka is that when a disciplined motorist
all of a sudden stops his motor vehicle before a zebra crossing, he runs
the risk being knocked down by the vehicle that follows it, presuming
that the first would not stop.)
(c) Non-observance of the roundabout signals (It is the duty of the
motorist to slow down his vehicle on seeing roundabout signals and then
give way to the traffic that come from the right. This practice is
conveniently ignored, causing either accidents or traffic jams.
(d) Non-use of signal lights (It is the duty of the motorist to use
correct signal lights when turning to either the left or the right at a
junction. It is noted that some vehicles do have damaged or improper
signal lights or that some motorists do not care to use them - sometimes
until approaching or passing the turn at the junction.)
(e) Not keeping to the lane or zigzagging between the lanes on the
same side. ‘Lane Filtering’ (defined in broad terms as moving between
traffic when other surrounding traffic is stationary) is still legal in
some countries, including Australia although there are some
technicalities that some police may book a motorist or biker for doing
This may depend on the discretion of the policeman at the time,
taking into account the speed into account and the other vehicles
around, if someone is sharing the same lane as another vehicle which is
also moving or passing to the left of a vehicle. If the policeman thinks
that a motorist is riding dangerously or recklessly among moving
traffic, he will most likely book the errant driver.
‘Lane Splitting’ (defined as moving through traffic when other
traffic is in motion, also referring to overtaking within the same
marked lane in moving traffic.) is when a vehicle travels between other
cars in moving traffic. He/she is more likely to be booked for this,
especially if they are changing lanes without indicating or overtaking
in the same lane or to the left of a car.
In Sri Lanka, lane filtering and lane splitting has become a normal
thing, particularly by drivers of buses, some vans and three-wheelers.
In order to avert accidents, other motorists are forced to give way to
(f) Crossing the white lines, single and double (The motorists are
free to overtake another vehicle cutting the white staggered lines so
long as they think it is safe.
But crossing a white line, particularly at a bend, is not allowed and
no motorist could cross the white double lines at any stage of the
journey, both resulting in committing traffic offences.
Many motorists do not adhere to these traffic rules and some of them
are obviously nabbed by the traffic police. But this does not always
(g) Crossing to the opposite direction of the road and trying to
force into the traffic on the left at traffic light junctions (Most
notable culprits are the motor cycles and three-wheelers, causing not
only traffic jams but also injustice to the motorists who are on the
right lane following one after another.
On some occasions, the traffic police on duty nab these errant divers
but it is unusual than usual. Some three-wheeler drivers know that some
police cops do get a free ride from them to and from the police
(h) Over-loading (This is applicable particularly to buses and
three-wheelers who constantly engage in this untoward practice. The
present writer once saw a photograph in a national newspaper showing a
three-wheeler carrying more than 10 cops - an unbelievable incident.)
(i) Non-wearing of helmets (No motor cyclist could either drive
without wearing a helmet or allow any one on the pillion without a
helmet. There are occasions on which this practice is not followed, even
by policemen who take their child from school on the pillion without a
In some other countries, the right kit is stipulated, for example,
the right helmet, leathers, gloves and boots which are considered a
necessity for safety and comfort when riding a bike.
In many countries, safeguards are stipulated by law, for example,
helmets having snug around the cheeks and top of the head, but not so
tight as to either hurt or be uncomfortable; also no movement of your
head inside the helmet, either from side to side or top to bottom, when
you shake your head.
(j) No consideration of environmental pollution (It is true that the
Ministry of Environment has given time for the motor vehicles to conform
to the air pollution guidelines or withdraw the vehicles from the road.
It is no doubt a good sign.
The government too has clamped down on the importation of second-hand
vehicles, the age of them being not more than three years. Importation
of engines and chassis for assembly of vehicles in Sri Lanka is also now
(k) Sale of vehicles by permit holders within five years as they have
been imported free or with duty concessions. (It is said or conjectured
that almost all the vehicles imported by parliamentarians and provincial
council members have changed hands surreptitiously.
In other words, they own the vehicles on paper but possession has
been given to others with open papers, so that they could legitimately
transfer them to their names once the prescribed period is over.)
(l) Non-conformity to excellent braking systems, proper tyres and
side mirrors (These are now checked only after an accident. By this time
the damage is already done.)
In the UK and in many other countries, a revolutionary new alarm
system or known as new multi-sensory alarm systems designed by a leading
Japanese car maker are now being popularly preferred.
These can alert a driver to impending danger by emitting a shrill
noise at the hint of trouble ahead as well as offering vibrating seats,
seat-belts and pedals designed to wake drivers up if the car drifts off
The amount of air to put in vehicle tyres, or how often they should
be checked are generally left to the motorists. Failure to do so is
applicable to other countries as well, for example, a Victorian
Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) and RACV survey of 1,000 cars and
their drivers in Melbourne, Australia, revealed that one in five cars
had at least one unroadworthy tyre - making it illegal and dangerous to
drive in this condition. It is an offence to drive a vehicle with
(m) Haphazard driving of commercial trucks, particularly 18-wheel
ones, carrying containers, especially during the periods of traffic
congestion. (The police has ordered that they should fly only during
allocated time periods but it seems that they hardly do so, causing
accidents and traffic jams. It is stipulated that these trucks and buses
should confine to the left lane of the road but this practice is not
(n) Insufficient education of drivers, particularly those getting
driving licence with bribes given to supervisors in the Motor Vehicle
Department (This has now become recurrent act, some getting licence over
the counter, some without even facing driving tests.
(o) Restoration of no claims bonuses even after a claim on insurance.
(One or two insurance companies follow this practice that contributes to
accidents through reckless driving with no cost to the policyholders.
Some insurance companies do not insist on submission of police reports,
giving a wrong signal for violation of traffic rules.)
(p) Non-use of seat belts (In many developed countries, it is
mandatory that the driver as well as the one sitting in front of the
vehicles wear seat belts for safety reasons, without which a fine is
imposed. This practice is not followed in Sri Lanka.)
(q) Parking at unauthorized places (The police has the power to tow
such vehicles to police stations or some designated place at the cost of
the errant motorists. Nevertheless, the police does not have sufficient
staff and towing facilities.)
The above account is only a cross-section of the traffic violations
in the country. Given the enormous magnitude of violence, killings and
kidnappings, particularly in a state of war situation in the country,
traffic violations go undetected. What a sorry state of affairs? The
law-makers as well as the guardians of the law are no doubt awara of
these traffic offences though the number of accidents reported is
surprisingly less than what is expected.