A fine measure | Daily News

A fine measure

Our roads are among the deadliest in the world, with around eight deaths reported daily. While bus drivers and three wheeler drivers are the biggest culprits, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other motorists also contribute to the grim statistics. There are a variety of causes for the high accident rate, but the leading one is reckless driving. This is what leads to most avoidable accidents, as opposed to certain accidents that cannot be prevented, for example those occurring due to bad weather and road conditions. Speeding, Driving Under the Influence (DUI), driving without proper training, driving under extreme fatigue and using mechanically unsound vehicles are among the other causes.

The State has imposed fines for many traffic offences, but some of the fines are so minimal that most motorists do not mind paying the fine and carrying on regardless. In other words, the fines do not act as a deterrent. The Government has now decided to increase fines for many traffic offences while adding 10 new offences from next week, making a total of 33. Fines for additional offences had been amended to Rs.1,000 as a minimum and a maximum of Rs.3,000. The fine for breaking speed limits has been increased to Rs.3,000. Fines going up to Rs.25,000 for seven traffic offences including DUI will be added as spot fines after Cabinet approval is received.

This is a welcome move, but only time will tell whether even the enhanced fines will work. In another development, Civil Aviation and Transport Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva has opined that life imprisonment sentence should be given to punish reckless drivers, especially those who cause very serious or fatal accidents. This is a valuable suggestion that should be looked into.

The authorities have also addressed another pertinent problem – overloading. This is common in three wheelers and private buses, but we have seen four people riding on a motorcycle and plenty of instances when private motor cars carry more than five passengers. We have also seen trucks carrying workers to various sites and in most instances, there is no safety net or barrier in the event of a collision. The fines for overloading of passengers and goods should cover all vehicle categories. Overloading is a serious offence, because it fundamentally alters the handling characteristics of the vehicle. A vehicle that carries more than the stipulated weight has a greater chance of getting out of control and meeting with an accident.

However, the mention of “carriage of goods other than personal luggage” as an offence is not very clear. Unless the goods are not contraband (illegal drugs, kasippu, game meat etc.) or illegal to be transported without a permit (explosives, cattle, timber, sand etc.), there is no reason why the Police should look into the luggage transported in personal vehicles. For example, should a bag of cement in someone’s trunk be considered illegal? The authorities must clarify clearly what kind of goods may not be transported in personal vehicles to clear this confusion. Likewise, there is an offence related to “not taking precautions when refuelling” but it is unclear whether Police can enter and nab motorists in a filling station, which is essentially private property. But the public can be educated on the steps that should be taken while refulleing, including turning the engine off, not using cellular phones, not using bottles to refuel on the road, and not smoking. There has always been a prohibition on buses refuelling with passengers on board for safety reasons and the Police can nab the drivers once they come out of the filling station.

The Police must also stop the practice of hiding behind bushes and trees and suddenly springing onto the road to nab motorists. This is quite dangerous, because some drivers may not be able to stop their vehicles in time. It is a matter of simple biology and physics – once a police officer gives the stop signal, it has to register in the driver’s brain, which has to issue a command to brake. All this takes a few seconds, while the vehicle is still moving. Generally, if a vehicle travelling at 70 Km/h is requested to stop on a dry road, the car goes around 30 metres by the time the driver reacts to the signal. Once the brakes are applied, the car still travels another 25-30 metres before the wheels stop turning. Thus if a police officer jumps in front of a vehicle moving at that speed from just 40 metres away, the driver may not be able to stop in time. Several Police officers have already died this way, but so far this practice has not stopped.

We also hope that bigger formal incentives will be given to traffic police officers, so that they will not be tempted to receive informal “incentives” from motorists. Remember, these fines are not just a form of revenue collection, but rather a way to deter motorists from committing offences in the future. The main role of the Police should be creating awareness and educating motorists, not collecting fines per se.


 

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