The Sunday Leader

Ravi Curbs The Licence To Kill

The decision of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to hike fines for seven traffic offences, although it is not much of a revenue collection move, is a logical step to reduce the slaughter of citizens on our roads.

Successive governments and tragic police chiefs have tried out various devices to save lives of citizens but not been successful in achieving their objectives. Drastic and shock treatment was called for. That is what Karunanayake had delivered through his budget proposals.

A fine of Rs. 25,000 is not what even a middle class citizen can laugh off. It is a tremendous hit on their purse and the family budget. It will instill a fear which would not have been earlier experienced. Most of our drivers are in the habit of muttering a ‘gatha’ or prayer, some even worshipping the steering wheel thrice, before taking off. But all that fear and piety takes a back seat as he steps on the gas and begins weaving his way through dense traffic not giving a damn to the safety of others and the laws of the land. We do hope that the proposed legislation will have a salutary effect.

But heavy fines alone are not enough for this is a malaise coming down the years. As the number of motor vehicles commenced increasing over the past century or so without much thought being given to the consequences, so did the authority controlling motor traffic, the traffic police and corruption in all aspects of the industry. What the country is experiencing is the growth of a monster that is directly and indirectly maiming and killing of people on our roads.

Today we do not have competent compulsory driver and riding schools.

The poor standards of driving and riding in this country is testimony to the quality of training that is imparted.

Most Driving Schools guarantee a driving licence for applicants even before their applications are submitted and it is bazaar talk that a licence can be obtained even without facing a driving test!

The Motor Traffic Department has a reputation, even in the early years of its existence, as of being one of the most corrupt government institutions in the country.

There are some decent traffic policemen doing their duty under trying conditions but there are very many others who expect fines to materialise with the production of the licence by the alleged offender.

What have been said above are not revelations. These are facts of Sri Lankan life which our rulers have not been able to cure or were not much concerned about to enforce curative measures for reasons of their own. Authorities also have to pursue their objectives with a determined political will if road rules are to be observed.

The challenge of eliminating traffic jams, reducing traffic and saving of lives should also be looked at from the perspective of experience and detailed research conducted on traffic flows in other countries.

It has been found out that wider, better, faster roads can’t ease traffic congestion. The picture of a California highway on Thanksgiving Day published in a daily Sri Lankan newspaper on Friday, illustrated this point. Traffic extended bumper to bumper on this well-known highway for miles.

The rate of production of motor vehicles around the world and transported to almost every city is far beyond the capacity of any city to build roads to match the influx of vehicles. A part of the solution, it is said, is mass transport particularly high speed rail transport.

Sri Lanka did exactly the opposite commencing from the sixties. Instead of continuing to use the railway to transport agricultural produce mainly tea to Colombo, we shifted to lorry transport not only jamming the narrow roads in the hill country but sending production costs up with the steadily increasing price of fuel.

A suburban metro is the obvious solution to Colombo’s traffic that is now becoming more static than moving on.

More rational thought is required to reduce traffic that is choking most of Colombo’s highways. When roads cannot be expanded to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers of vehicles, the obvious answer is to reduce the numbers of vehicles coming in. Despite short, sporadic, erratic halts in import of vehicles the numbers coming in seem too great when vehicles new number plates are seen on the roads.

Regrettably import of new duty free vehicles for MPs – the servants of the people – may inspire their masters, the people, too to ride new cars even though they cannot afford the luxury. Perhaps leasing companies will help.

Ravi Karunanayake’s moves to jack up fines drastically will be a brake on the homicidal tendencies of those now in possession of a licence to kill. But much greater follow up action is called for.

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