A ‘fine’ measure

Daily News Editorial

The increase of the minimum traffic fine to Rs.2,500 is one of the most progressive measures announced in Budget 2017. As expected, a heated debate has followed the announcement with the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) vowing to go on strike to get it amended. However, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, who must necessarily have concurred with highways and traffic authorities on this matter, has stressed that the Rs. 2,500 minimum fine is here to stay.

We feel that this measure was long overdue, judging by the increasing number of road accidents. In fact, there are many who question whether the fine could be raised further. At least seven people are killed on average every day on our roads. Last year, more than 2,700 people including pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents. In the last 10 years alone, 23,000 people have been killed and more than 50,000 have been seriously injured on our roads. This has a huge impact on the economy and society because most accident victims are in the economically productive age range of 15-50.

Not surprisingly, the biggest culprits on the roads are operators of private buses, three wheelers and motorcycles. It does not take much imagination to fathom why the LPBOA opposes the higher fines – on the other hand, if their drivers are disciplined, there is no cause for worry. Everyone knows how private bus drivers behave on the roads, flouting every road rule, “racing” each other and driving recklessly from start to finish. If the LPBOA and other bus unions cannot impose some form of self-control and discipline on their charges, the authorities have to intervene at some point. Hence the proposal for higher fines. There is no reason why the Government should waver from this position, as the LPBOA suggests.Image result for road accident cartoons

Cartoon added by TW from internet

The somewhat loosely regulated three wheeler industry has responded more positively to the announcement, saying it was a step in the right direction. This industry is in the midst of a critical introspection after a spate of fatal accidents mainly involving three wheelers driven by young drivers aged 18-25. There is a demand from within the three wheeler community that no one under 35 or even 40 should be allowed to carry fare paying passengers in three wheelers. This is an idea that the authorities should take action on. In the meantime, the authorities should be commended for taking steps to encourage electric cars as an alternative to three wheelers through the latest Budget, although the exact methodology is not clear yet. Three wheelers will die a natural death in any case if small-capacity cars, electric or not, can be sold at lower prices.

The Motorcyclists Association has called on its members to wear black arm bands to protest the higher fines, but again the problem can easily be solved if they obey road rules. Both three wheeler drivers and motorcyclists are known for deadly manoeuvres on the road which are not necessary at all.

There is a counter argument that increasing the traffic fines will result only in motorists trying to bribe traffic police personnel. The only way to stop this is to reward the traffic policemen handsomely through the Police Department itself from the funds earned from the fines. Moreover, the traffic police must cease playing “hide and seek” where they hide behind trees to nab oncoming motorists. The job of the Police is not collecting fines per se – it is also about educating the motorists and maintaining a visible presence on the roads, which can deter offending motorists.

There are many factors that cause accidents – reckless driving, speeding, lack of training and experience, bad roads, bad weather, mechanically unsound vehicles, drunk or impaired driving, texting/phoning while driving, non-use of safety features including seat belts and child seats, failing to wear helmets or not securing them properly and distracted driving. The authorities can only do so much – such as revamping the way licenses are issued and improving road infrastructure – but most other factors apart from the weather are well within the control of motorists. Pedestrians and push cyclists too must take extra precautions at all times. They are also “road users” in the broad sense of the term and are subjected to much the same rules.

Next Sunday, the world will mark the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims under the theme “Vital Post-Crash Actions: Medical Care, Investigations and Justice”. In 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 1.25 million people died worldwide in vehicle crashes. Governments spend billions of dollars every year on injured victims. It is also vital to investigate each and every serious accident – this is indeed how traffic authorities and vehicle manufacturers have added enhanced safety features over the years. Ensuring justice to victims is perhaps the most important aspect – in many cases the victims and their families suffer immensely while the perpetrator(s) go scot-free. But no legal measure can match the power of discipline, which is essential to ensure to safer roads for all.