Deadly high

Drunk driving has resulted in the death of two people, including a policeman, in Mumbai on Friday night. The alcohol content in the driver, a woman, was many times above the permissible limit. Ironically, the cop who was killed was on duty to prevent drunk driving. There has been a sharp surge in the number of accidents triggered by people who are under the influence of alcohol. Every one of these deaths and injuries they caused were wholly avoidable. Had they simply not got behind the wheel when under the influence of alcohol, the accidents wouldn’t have happened.

Police in several metros across the country have launched high-profile campaigns to prevent drunk driving. While the launch of such campaigns by the police is laudable, there are doubts to what extent these are being fully implemented. Police are indeed deployed on roads to stop and check the alcohol content of drivers. But what happens next? Drunk drivers slip a few rupees into the palm of the police and drive away. The campaign against drunk driving has become an opportunity for the police to make a fast buck. Even if drunk drivers are punished, all they get is a light rap on the knuckles. A few hundred rupees is no big deal for many of them. If their license is taken away, a new one is always procurable for a small sum. Even in cases where the driver ends up killing pedestrians, more often than not they get away easily. Actor Salman Khan rammed his vehicle into pavement dwellers and killed one and injured three. He was charged with culpable homicide but was let off with a fine. Sanjeev Nanda, grandson of a former Navy chief, mowed down six people. It took the courts almost a decade to convict him. He was given a two-year jail term only and that too was subsequently commuted.

There have been calls for more serious punishment for drunken driving, the argument being that people will feel deterred by the seriousness of the punishment. However, that will happen only if laws are implemented, if the police and the courts don’t subvert justice in exchange for money or under pressure from influential people. The problem is that civil society wakes up to the problem only when an accident like the one in Mumbai happen. And within days the issue is forgotten. Sustained pressure from civil society on authorities to ensure that justice is done is necessary.

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