A timely move | Daily News


A timely move

Supreme Court complex

It appears that the authorities, at last, have hit on the right formula to confront the Grim Reaper that has been lurking on our highways taking a heavy toll of lives almost on a daily basis.

The Police say it will now charge all drivers involved in fatal road accidents for murder. Director Police Legal Division SSP Ruwan Gunasekera speaking to journalists after attending the Nugegoda Magistrate’s Court case over the death of a soldier in a fatal accident near the Nugegoda flyover said that henceforth all drivers who cause deaths on the road will be charged for murder under the Penal Code.

Mercifully the near three month hiatus of empty roads caused by the Novel Coronavirus lockdown spared many lives from road accidents, a majority of which are caused by private buses through reckless driving. It appears that we are back to square one, where road deaths are concerned, and the drastic step now being contemplated to arrest the trend could not have come at a better time.

Needless to say, private bus operators are a law unto themselves and it is time they are brought to heel. Most laws governing private buses are rarely observed in any case. Moreover, according to the Chairman of the Private Bus Owners’ Association, over 60 percent of the private bus crew in the Western Province alone are drug addicts which would naturally raise the question whether the harsh new penalty is going to instill discipline and an adherence to road rules in such types who are in a permanent state of stupor. As we know, even the ultimate penalty has hardly had an effect in combating crime or drug running.

There could be protests at the introduction of these new punishments by the private bus mafia. They even downed tools when the previous Government brought in a fine of Rs.25,000 to check undisciplined driving.

But the line should be drawn somewhere. A responsible Government cannot stand by and watch, while precious lives are being snuffed out in monotonous regularity on our highways. The riot act should be read to the private bus operators to fall in line and drastic action taken against those flouting road rules and speed limits. Most accidents occur due to the fierce rivalry among the private bus drivers to pick up the maximum ‘load’ and they give a tuppence to who gets hurt in the process, like what happened on the Nugegoda flyover.

We talk and lament about the breadwinners lost in terror attacks. But we do not know how many breadwinners would have been snatched away from countless families due to fatal road accidents not only by the private buses but by reckless driving by others as well. A scheme should be drawn up whereby orphaned families of those killed/maimed in road accidents are adequately compensated so that they (the families) would not feel the loss of the breadwinner, at least from a financial perspective.

While the harsh new penalty is welcome to rein in the private bus operators who have become a law unto themselves, this will also act as a deterrent to other vehicle users to be more careful and be on their toes when at the wheel in the future. Today most accidents occur as a result of drivers in long haul vehicles falling asleep during the journey which mostly take place in the nighttime stretching towards dawn. Television news is full of scenes where such long haul vehicles, mostly tipper trucks and containers having taken a tumble down gorges and ravines at hairpin bends. These drivers should be asked to take breathers during such long haul journeys and resume only when afresh and fully awake.

An age limit too should be imposed for driving heavy vehicles. Those long in the tooth should be put to pasture and not allowed to handle such vehicles. It is only natural that age slows down one’s reflexes and this could be fatal in a close encounter. The Police should come down hard on those driving under the influence of liquor, which too has been the chief cause for road accidents, even if the culprits are celebrities like sports stars or film personalities. The kid glove treatment given to a cricketer recently involved in a road mishap, by the police is certainly not going to inspire confidence in the ordinary public as to the efficacy of the proposed penalties. The so called Driving Schools also should be brought under the microscope and fraudsters exposed. There are Driving Schools mushrooming at a rate not only in the city but even in the outstations. It is doubtful whether they impart a thorough training and knowledge on their students. This too could be fatal and may be a contributory factor for the rising rate of road accidents and should be looked into without delay. 

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