An exercise in futility | Daily News

An exercise in futility

On average eight deaths are reported per day as a result of road accidents in this country and it is estimated that the numbers perished as a result of road mishaps have exceed the figure killed in the thirty year war. Hence, one would have thought that the authorities would give this matter utmost attention and take remedial steps to curb the accidents that have taken a heavy toll of lives.

However, looking at the New Traffic Offences Bill Gazetted on Monday it is clear that, contrary to acting as a deterrent, the Bill, in fact has, sought to encourage errant motorists to continue in the same vein. As per the Bill to amend the Motor Traffic Act (Chapter 203), the fines to be imposed for seven traffic offenses have been increased to Rs. 25,000. These include driving without a valid driving license, driving under the influence of liquor and drugs, driving a vehicle over a railroad crossing and driving a vehicle without a valid insurance cover.

Does the Government think that a fine of Rs.25,000 will act as an adequate deterrent to stop some maniac behind the wheel to put an end to his daredevil stunts? Recently, the IGP deployed teams of policemen in the vicinity of night clubs to arrest those on the verge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Does not this alone indicate that those chiefly responsible for traffic offenses are of the elite class who are well heeled, and, for whom Rs.25,000 will amount to chicken feed?

Amendments have also been made to increase the fines for causing the death of a person by driving a motor vehicle after consumption of alcohol or drugs and to further regulate the scope of the offence and to provide for the penalty for causing hurt or grievous injury to a person by driving a motor vehicle after the consumption of alcohol or drugs, driving recklessly or dangerously’.

It is not here mentioned what quantum the fine will take. It is moot though whatever increase is going to have any impact on curbing road deaths, for the same reason. What is meant by ‘ further regulating the scope of the offence’ too needs elucidation. True, road deaths can carry the charge of manslaughter. By ‘regulating the scope of the offence’ does the Bill seek to make provision to classify this into the category of murder? If that is so, it is to be most welcomed, since what we see on the roads, particularly where the private passenger buses are concerned, is akin to willful murder.

Be that as it may, fines alone are not going to solve the problem, for there will be those ever ready to fork out whatever fines imposed. Enhanced penalties too, alas, are going to have the same effect. This is mainly due to the question of enforcement. As it is, the laws specify stringent penalties for specific road offences, However when it comes to crunch time the offenders go scot-free.

The individual responsible for causing the death of the Borella Traffic OIC too was under the influence of liquor but is now out on bail after the initial horror of the incident had died down. There are several cases involving VIP sons causing death or injury as a result of drunk driving, all of which have been consigned into the forgotten things of limbo. Ditto for celebrities such as actors and national cricketers, despite the existing laws being adequate for stern action.

Instead, what ought to be done is, considering that most of the offenders come from the elite, a scheme be worked out for a generous slice of income to be provided to the family of the fatality or the victim disabled, on a continuous basis. One certainly should give thought to the plight of the families of the victims, who are liable to be rendered orphaned, in the absence or disability of the breadwinner. This perhaps could act as a sufficient deterrent to motorists to exercise care when behind the wheel.

In the case of long haul and heavy vehicles the problem lies in the drivers falling asleep resulting in accidents. Here too enhanced fines could have little or no impact since this is a natural phenomenon over which they have no control. Vehicles that are not roadworthy too cause mishaps due to faulty mechanisms. It has to be noted that it is the trishaws that have figured in some of the most horrible accidents. Here too, questions have been raised as to the competence of most of the trishaw drivers who have become a law unto themselves, like their private bus counterparts.

The explosion in the number of motor vehicles (there are 8 million vehicles as against 5.5 million families) has, no doubt, contributed to the alarming increase in accidents that have claimed an unprecedented death toll. While enhancing fines to discipline errant motorists is to be welcomed, steps should also be taken curb the number of motor vehicles, or, in the alternative, expand the road network. A more holistic approach is needed on the whole issue.


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