Accidents in recent days have turned the spotlight on drunk driving all over again, leading to Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, who confirmed that 95 per cent of the accidents at night are caused by drunk drivers, suggesting that people should have libraries in their homes rather than bars where they display the liquor bottles they have purchased. While that comment evoked a variety of reactions, the most important point of drunk driving or driving under the influence of liquor is what begs some solution. Mere statements from the political class will not help correct the current situation. It demands action on the ground.
Whether it be 95 per cent or not, it can safely be stated that a good percentage of road accidents, especially those that occur during the late evening and night hours, are a consequence of drunk driving. This is incontrovertible and that being so, could many of these and the resultant fatalities have been avoided? Obviously, the answer to this would be yes. So, what is the government doing about it? Are there plans to get strict with drunk drivers?
Drive against drunken driving is debatable
It has been noticed that in the past, whenever there has been any major accident that involved drunk drivers, the police department would get into the act of a drive to check for drunken driving, even announcing this in the media. The same pattern has been followed in this instance and Goa is currently in the midst of one such drive against drunk driving. Will it bring about any positive change?
The efficacy of such a short-term drive with advance notice to motorists to help contain the problem is very debatable. A motorist who is aware that the police are waiting on a specific date to catch drunk drivers will naturally avoid drinking that night. Isn’t this obvious? Yet, Goa Police actually issued a public notice announcing this drive against drunken driving. Of course, there will also be many who will just risk it and end up paying a fine, but if the penalty is not harsh on the pocket, how many will in actual terms change their habits?
Mere lip service will not do
Let’s see just how serious the State government has been in tackling drunk driving or whether it has been merely paying lip service to tackle the problem. A few months ago, when the State finally implemented the amended Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019, which it had deferred far too many times in the past, as the opposition and the people protested whenever it was to be brought into force, one of the rules that was most conspicuously missing from the list of transgressions for increased penalty amounts was drunken driving. One would have imagined that against the backdrop of a rather large number of accidents in Goa caused by persons driving under the influence of liquor, this would have been the rule that the government would definitely want into force.
However, in the public notice that announced the drive against drunk driving, the police said that it could attract imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of Rs 10,000. This does seem to be a strong enough punishment, but its efficacy can be gauged only after the drive is completed and what occurs in the weeks and months ahead. For that matter, once the period of the drive ends, what happens? Everything returns to normal?
Random checks are effective
Random checks for alcohol content in drivers could be a better solution than special drives against drunken driving, as this should be a continuous process and not a sporadic experiment. Since the police department has decided that its staff will not stop motorists unless there is a visible breaking of a rule, all those driving at high speed or rashly could be tested for alcohol. If there are reservations on whether increased penalties will reduce cases of drunk driving, then there exist studies conducted in the United States of America confirming that the possibility of arrest can lead to a very significant reduction in the number of cases of drunk driving.
One of the aims of the amended Motor Vehicles Act is to bring about an improved road culture in the people. This can be achieved if along with penal provisions for breaking the rules, there are also awareness sessions created on drunken driving. The drivers booked too should realise that getting fined is preferable to getting into an accident.
Young drivers need to be monitored
There is another issue that requires to be factored in and tackled accordingly. A substantial number of drivers who have been booked for drunken driving are young persons. It is this age group of drivers that could most benefit from awareness sessions on the dangers of driving under the influence of liquor.
The rules exist so what’s stopping their implementation and enforcement? There will be no change in the condition that motorists take to the roads if the police are not strict with enforcing the rules. Those who want to drink and then have to drive to their destination will do it, regardless of the consequences if the penalties are not harsh.
While the traffic police and the road transport authorities will play a role in reducing drunken driving, Goans themselves could perhaps make a start by emulating the West where in a group that goes out, one person is designated as the driver and that person keeps off alcoholic drinks for that evening. The responsibility also lies on the people, for in this case, it is not entirely up to the government and the law enforcing authorities to act.