Drunk drivers run without fear on city's roads


The road crashes in the Kashmere Gate-Rajghat area in recent days are a chilling reminder of the dangerous role liquor plays in wiping out precious lives. 

According to the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, an alcohol-impaired driver has 17 times the risk of being involved in a fatal crash than a sober person at the wheel. And experts say stronger provisions in the penal code and the Motor Vehicle Act may deter people from drunk driving. 

“Even a fine of Rs 2,000 does not stop some drivers from repeated drunken driving,” he says. “Only a suspension of licence on repeat offence can deter people from drunk driving. This would keep them away for driving for six months and teach them a hard lesson,” Muktesh Chander, Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic), says. 

Chander says the Delhi traffic police follow the international practice of random breath testing to keep drunk drivers off road. A drunken driving accused might face a jail term and be fined at least Rs 2,000. More than 20,400 drivers have been booked this year.

Yet there seems to be no real fear in the city of getting caught. Officials say this is partly due to small punishments and fines. 

According to traffic police data till July, this year only 47 drunk drivers were awarded imprisonment ranging from one to three days, nine for four to five days and four for more than 10 days. Drivers who get fined also undergo a counselling session.

Chander denies allegations that enforcement against traffic violators is weak.“There are about a 10 million drivers and we issue around 5 million fine slips annually. This, by no means, is poor enforcement.”

A V Srinivas, a representative of Global Road Safety Partnership, narrates a Hyderabad experiment in which a drunk driving accused’s vehicle is detained by cops for two to five days and he is asked to come and collect it later.

“There is no prosecution. The denial of use of his own vehicle and forced use of public transport, apart from a counselling session, is working wonders in Hyderabad,” he says, claiming a drop of over 35 per cent in road crashes and a drop of over 45 per cent in fatalities over the past year till July 31.

Experts say pub and bar managers are key stakeholders.

The owner of a popular pub in the commercial hub of Connaught Place says at times they sense that a patron has had a drink too many. But they have their own limitations.

“Before a patron leaves our outlet we assess his physical state. We even ask him politely if he needs a drop home,” he says.

“That’s the best we can do, or else, we could be accused of disturbing them and intruding their privacy,” he adds.

Amrita Kansal, National Consultant (Road Safety and Injury Prevention), WHO, does not favour prescribing any `safe limits' of alcohol intake.

“Alcohol affects individuals differently depending upon their body metabolism. The safest approach is to promote no drinking before driving, rather than telling people how much is safe to drink,” she says.

Rules

India follows a law which does not allow a driver at the wheel if his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is more than 0.03  grams per decilitre of blood (g/dl).

Some experts also suggest setting up sobriety checkpoints for drivers to check their own blood alcohol levels and take the wise decision of taking a cab home. Former chief secretary Omesh Saigal says, “Let there be breath test machines outside all bars. This will warn people.”

Legal expert Rituj Chopra calls for stringent provisions in the new Motor Vehicle Act being drafted by the central government. 

“At present, a drunken driving suspect has to compulsorily undergo a breath test, but it is not so when a drunk driver is involved in a fatal accident,” he says.

If a driver is arrested for killing somebody while driving in an inebriated state, he or she may get off lightly by paying a meagre bail amount within 24 hours.

Chopra says delay in collecting blood samples of drunken driving accused also weakens the police case in courts.

 “The sample is to be collected within three hours of a breath test indicating presence of alcohol in a driver’s body.”  

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