Monetising indiscipline (by Druggie Drivers and the govt)

Monetising indiscipline (Original Title – Island)

Road accidents snuff out about seven or eight lives daily. The proliferation of CCTV cameras has helped us witness, on television, many shocking scenes where vehicles collide head-on or knock down pedestrians. The worst culprits are the private bus and truck drivers who are notorious for their callous disregard for human lives. They behave as if they alone had a right to use public roads and others were at their mercy. The same goes for undisciplined trishaw drivers and motorcyclists, who seem to have a death wish. Other drivers and the jaywalking fraternity also contribute to chaos on roads to varying degrees. 

Image result for sri Lanka bus driver's discipline cartoonsCartoon added by TW from Internet

The general consensus is that something drastic needs to be done to make the country’s roads safe. The government has increased the fines for some traffic offences to Rs. 25,000. Private bus operators launched a strike, on Wednesday, in protest. The government’s position is that the disciplined drivers do not have to worry about heavy fines. Both private bus operators’ unions and the government, in our book, are at fault. The blame for this situation should be apportioned to the traffic police, as well.

Private bus drivers are a law unto themselves. These asphalt cowboys are always in a mighty hurry to be ahead of all others. It is said that if they had been driven by the same urge to beat others, while in school, most of them would have excelled in education and been in top positions, at present, instead of jockeying on roads. The incumbent government, in its wisdom, allocated separate lanes for buses, on some busy roads, in the city. Bus drivers are not known to heed lane discipline; they use all lanes including the ones on the wrong side. The police do not care to nab them.

Most roads are too narrow and the road development authorities are apparently labouring under the delusion that they can solve the problem by painting single or double continuous centre lines thereon. During rush hour, vehicles crawl, nose to tail, at speeds which never exceed 10 km/h, in the Colombo City and its suburbs. The police do precious little to ease congestion and bring some relief to weary motorists; they seem to be deriving some perverse pleasure from seeing the misery of motorists and commuters. They do not try to prevent breaches of road rules. Instead, they wait till someone violates traffic rules, posing a risk to others and wreaking havoc on roads, to impose fines or obtain bribes.

Government leaders themselves have proved, albeit unwittingly, that they have not developed the road network properly. They get their uniformed bouncers to clear roads for their motorcades to whiz past irate motorists stuck in traffic jams. Are they any better than the private bus drivers who shove others off roads?

If roads are to be made safe, druggies in the garb of drivers have to be severely dealt with. Substance abuse is prevalent among private bus drivers. A survey, conducted by the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA), has revealed that 20 percent of the private bus drivers chase the dragon while on duty. The LPBOA has also found that 25 percent of drivers hired by its members smoke cannabis while working. Although no study has been conducted on other heavy vehicle drivers, the sheer number of fatal accidents caused by truckers suggests that most of them are high on drugs while driving. The police can nab only drunk drivers. They have no way of having suspects tested for drugs. Roads will never be safe so long as druggies are allowed to drive.

Meanwhile, the traffic police have, over the years, been transformed into a revenue generating agency of sorts. Their focus must be on preventing accidents rather than helping raise funds for governments by way of fines. Road development, better policing and sterner punishment are necessary for ensuring road safety. The government ought to invest in traffic monitoring cameras and other such devices so that drivers will be compelled to mind road rules, all the time, even in places where there is no police presence. The Big Brother method is known to be effective in dealing with errant drivers.

Let the warring private bus operators be urged to exercise some control over their drivers before taking on others. They must realise that they are not above the law. Had they cared to hire only disciplined drivers, perhaps, the need for heavy fines would not have arisen.

While agreeing that fines should be high enough to have a deterrent effect, we are afraid that the imposition of the huge ones at issue smacks of a desperate attempt by the government to monetise transgressions in a bid to boost its revenue. Fines alone won’t help enforce road discipline however beneficial they may be to governments given to profligacy.