Some Reflections on Way Forward 2016

Ceylon Today feature

At the dawn of 2016, a serious head-on collision of two buses at Panchikawatta injuring 13 people; statistics of 550 passengers admitted to the Colombo National Hospital Accident Ward at the end the year, have put the number of road accidents up by 20 per cent in 2015, compared with the previous year's figures. This is quite alarming, and is, despite the struggle by traffic police to find ways and means of combating accidents and traffic congestion.

 "A vital transport system, with effective motor traffic law enforcement helps to buttress a nation's growth". Though this fact has been identified as a necessity over the past, we have not been able to come out of this maze so far! The latest introduction of Lane Line discipline had a ripple effect like any new enforcement in this country. Despite several prosecutions at the beginning there are still many offenders, especially motorcyclists who cross the white middle line and ride against oncoming traffic which should be immediately spotted and brought to book!

 Such manoeuvres should not be confined only to Colombo roads and its suburbs but should be an islandwide exercise; where the role-played by motor vehicle drivers and the enforcement of the motor traffic law must work hand in glove.

 Basic law

Not so long ago, a Deputy Inspector General of Police was quoted as saying that "drivers should always use the left lane and the right lane should be used only to overtake a vehicle". This, of course, is the basic statute of the Highway Code from its inception, yet to-date this basic decree is flagrantly ignored by almost every driver in Sri Lanka while the Traffic Police seem to turn a Nelsonian eye! Rigid enforcement of this fundamental law can turn into a money-spinner too, only if the traffic officers attached to Police Departments are adequately deployed, and are acquainted with the law. The general excuse given by the Police Department is their 'not having enough officers to deploy at every junction".

 On the other hand, they admit to having conscripted quite a few recruits during the terrorist war, given them a basic training to handle a gun only, but lacked knowledge in motor traffic law". So the prospects are open for the Police Department to get cracking with appropriate training and deployment of officers to execute an admirable job.

 To the delight of motorists many road junctions are now controlled by traffic light signals, replacing police officers who at times add more chaos in diverting and filtering traffic. Such spare officers should be able to effectively detect traffic violators and bring them to book. What would be the advantage of allocating new and fast motorbikes to traffic police if their sole aim is to gallivant on the roads up and down or only participate in ceremonial parades? Instead they should be trained to perform up to international standards of mobile patrolling where any motorist who is seen breaking the law should be stopped and prosecuted.

 New concept

On another perspective, there are so many Army soldiers who fought to save this land during the prolonged LTTE war. They were later used as skilled labourers and coolies by the Ministry of Defence in government construction worksites, beautification of Colombo exercises, road building work, cutting grass in parks and cleaning canals etc. Those entities could now be utilized as 'Military Police' or under a specially appointed category as 'Vehicle Inspectors' with special powers to detect and prosecute any errant motorist on the road, irrespective of their position or status in society, as the law should be common to all under the 'Yahapalanaya' (good governance)! This would be more prestigious for dedicated sons of Lanka who managed to save our motherland than heeding to the degrading proposition by the Chief Minister of Jaffna for the soldiers to clean the drains!

 A novel idea to be implemented in 2016 would be to first organize and set up training centres for traffic offenders. Here, senior police officers or professionals can act as instructors to educate offenders ensuring that they learn and adhere to the Highway Code with a severe warning, if caught for more than three times, their driving licence could be cancelled permanently. To do this effectively, traffic police or the new 'vehicle inspectors' have to be extremely vigilant on traffic violators and direct them to the Courts; rather than issuing penalty notices or taking possession of the driver's licence; which involves a laborious process.

 Magistrates at the hearing of such cases could order the offenders to do community service for a number of hours a week while making it compulsory to attend the prosecutors' training centre. Once the message gets through to the public it is certain to have good effects for two reasons (1) Offenders will learn the Motor Traffic Law properly and try to behave accordingly. (2) Days away from work while attending classes and/or community work will affect their wallets too. It could also be made easier if the manager at the Training School gives a letter to the employer of the victim with an explanation, which may save the offender's wages during his absence from his/her place of work.

 On 4 November 2014 Police Headquarters decided to round up motorists who failed to dip headlamps during night driving. That law had not been enforced since1983 for a start! On 1 November 2011 the use of seat belts became compulsory. Have the imposed fines of Rs 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and suspension of driving licences on lawbreakers had any effect? No. We often see motorcyclists (above all some police officers taking their children on pillion rides to school) without wearing helmets!

Complaints on errant bus drivers by the public by way of 'letters to the editor' columns of newspapers have not made an iota of difference or effect in resolving such a debacle. In the circumstances it is difficult to think whether remedial measures and punitive action against such uncouth drivers will be taken until the sun starts to rise from the West and moon begins to lose its splendour.

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