Those daredevil drunken drivers

Those daredevil drunken drivers

Don’t drink and drive, the billboard proclaimed in big, bold letters. But just out of the pub that downed shutters at the stroke of 11, the gang of four couldn’t care less. Pitch drunk and suddenly hungry, they had to rush to their favourite restaurant ten miles away. Mounting their bikes, they vroomed in tandem. Just round the corner, the night patrol team was ready with their alcometers...

Stung by the mounting road accidents during night, the City traffic police had discovered that over 50 per cent of these incidents had their origin in the driver / rider’s alcohol-intake. Armed with a fresh supply of alcometers, the police stepped up their drunken driving checks across the city. Result: A whopping 61,923 cases were booked in 2011, another 60,973 in 2012 and as many as 55,020 cases till the end of November last year.

Once the year-end statistics are collated by the third week of this month, the numbers are expected to go up further. On New Year’s eve alone, the police had booked a total of 230 cases linked to drunken driving. “Every year, these numbers go up during winter due to the cold weather. People are often caught driving drunk in the months of November, December and January,” explains a top police official, well experienced in monitoring driving behaviour.

Breaking traffic rules in gay abandon even during daytime, many compulsive drinkers have had no qualms taking reckless driving to a new level after dark. Their control over the wheels and bike handles considerably reduced, their vision blurred and often blinded totally by headlights of oncoming vehicles, the drunk riders play with death. “They risk not only their lives, but also those of innocent people on the road,” points out the police official.

The city police, along with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) and the erstwhile Bangalore Agenda Task Force and GRSP, had begun implementation of the drink drive laws in 2002. The stress has been on needs assessment, communication campaigns, stepped up enforcement and periodical monitoring.

Researching for years on alcohol consumption and accidents, NIMHANS had solid reason to join hands with the police. Here’s what happens if a drunk driver is at the wheels, as a NIMHANS study reveals: Poor judgement, slow reaction, delayed reflexes, poor visual attention, improper coordination, and difficulties in identifying dangers on roads. “In addition, it has several immediate physiological effects on routine body functions (like respiration and circulation) which can interfere and adversely influence driving behaviour,” says the study.

Less inhibition, high speeds

Most importantly, the NIMHANS report notes, alcohol intake induces a pseudo euphoric effect making the driver less inhibitive. This clearly leads to higher speeds and non-adherence to safe behaviour on roads. “All these changes, in one way or other, increase the probability of the driver getting involved in a crash. Further, alcohol presence presents difficulties in assessment and management of the injured person in emergency room setting.”

If enforced strictly, the existing law could be deterrent enough. Section 185 (a) of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, mandates punishment for whoever, while driving or trying to drive a motor vehicle, is found in a breath analyser test, to contain in his blood alcohol exceeding 30 mg per 100 ml. While the first offence could invite a six-month imprisonment or a fine amount up to Rs. 2,000 or both, a second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, will attract a two-year imprisonment. Plus a penalty of Rs. 3,000 or more.

Implementation of the rules has not been a cakewalk for the police. Short of alcometers for years, the city police had to rely on their olfactory skills to zero in on motorists with alcohol intake beyond permissible limits. But the supplies have increased in recent years, and the current number of 125 alcometers is considered adequate for now.

These are used at an estimated 150 checkpoints erected across the city, particularly during weekends. On an average, about two to three checking points are put up in each of the city’s 42 traffic police station limits. Most of these locations are manned by a traffic sub-inspector and two to three constables.

Motorcyclists and car drivers constitute the majority of the offenders. However, even BMTC and KSRTC drivers have been booked for the same offence. “There are stringent checks at the bus depots. But some drivers are known to consume liquor outside, after they take the buses out around 9 pm. Recently, a KSRTC bus driver was booked for drunken driving on Kanakapura road,” informs another traffic police official, preferring anonymity.

Awareness campaign

To arrest the spiralling alcohol-driven road accident cases, the traffic police had organised a dramatic campaign in the second half of December, 2012. A badly damaged vehicle was placed on a tableau and taken around Bangalore, with the message that it was in that state because the driver was punch drunk.

The traffic police top brass says it had the desired effect: No accidents were reported on December 31 that year.

Easier availability of alcohol, rising income levels, rapid motorisation and changing social values are bound to keep the drunken driving problem boiling even in 2014. Doctors and other experts emphasise the need to keep a watch on male drivers in the age group of 18 to 45 years, teenage drivers, those driving between 8 pm and midnight, particularly on peripheral, outer city areas and on highways. But the enforcement, they insist, should be people-friendly, non-harassing, uniform across geographical areas, and visible in nature.

Besides, the checks should be random enough. They also seek an inter-disciplinary approach to tackle the problem. And this means, the joint participation of police, medical practitioners and lawyers.

Commuters are not so convinced when the police claim the enforcement is always public-friendly. A case in point is an episode last year on Old Airport road, where a male car passenger was chased and beaten up because he objected to the rude questions posed by the police to his wife. The man’s breath did show alcohol content beyond permissible levels. But his wife, who was perfectly sober, was at the wheels!  

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