Government Ministries and State authorities are presently in discussions with the Police in order to finalize controls to curtail the probability of the proposed high fines in traffic offences being misused and abused by cops.

The Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Finance announced that the government had proposed the increase of the minimum penalty for seven road offences which constitute serious traffic law violations to Rs 25,000, the imposition of which is to be implemented from the ensuing week onwards. The said offences have now been taken off the list of offences for which spot fines are charged. All seven offences will involve the drivers and the Police seeing the insides of a traffic court.

According to the proposals, the fine for driving without a valid licence has been increased from Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000, the fine for assigning someone without a valid licence to drive one’s vehicle has been increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 25,000, the fine for driving without a valid insurance (certificate) has been increased from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000, the fine for overtaking from the left has been increased from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000, the fine for driving across railway level crossings when the rail gates have been closed has been increased to Rs 25,000, the fine for speeding has been increased from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000 and the fine for driving under the influence liquor or drunk driving has been increased to Rs 25,000. None of the fines for the said offences will involve spot fines.
The government has said that the intent is to prevent and reduce the number of road accidents and motor traffic violations and to ensure the safety of commuters and road users such as pedestrians. The government has also added that they were not averse to earning an income via the process of collecting fines.

The Traffic Police has been advised to strictly enforce the law and have thereby been effectively granted maximum power, a carte blanche of sorts, to prosecute. It has been further revealed by the two Ministries that more than 49,000 incidents had been reported of vehicles being driven by those under the influence of liquor and elsewhere 50,000 vehicles had been driven without a valid driving licence.

The offence of ‘overtaking from the left’, a phrase coined by the Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, has led to some confusion among the masses, leading to the wholly erroneous understanding that the offence applied when any vehicle on the left side sought to overtake the vehicle in front which was also on the left side, from the left side. The impression was that the act of attempting to overtake in such a manner, in itself constituted the offence. It was not imperative that an accident occur during the process. The relevant State agency however clarified the grievous misconception. The National Council for Road Safety said that overtaking from the left side of the road, be it a single lane, double lane or a triple lane, applied only in the case of the vehicle attempting to go from the left to the right meets with an accident with a pedestrian or a vehicle in the process. The Council further said that the measure was in particular to deal with the manner in which certain three-wheeler drivers and motorcyclists use the road.

Chairman of the Council, Dr. Sisira Kodagoda said that always the vehicle travelling on the right side had the initial right of way and therefore should be given first preference with regard to the right of way.

“If one is on the left and one wants to go to the right, one must first signal so, then look at the right side using the vehicle’s mirrors and see whether there are vehicles coming or not and while one can put the vehicle from the left to the right if there are no vehicles to be seen on the right. If on the other hand there are in fact vehicles coming on the right, one must look as to whether there is sufficient space or distance for one to take one’s vehicle from the left to the right without obstructing the right of way of the vehicle travelling down the right or if there is insufficient space and distance then one must await an opportunity to turn,” he explained.

When queried as to the fact that signboards with speed limits were rarely to be glimpsed on roads, he added that the Road Development Authority and Road Development Authorities of Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies such as municipal councils were presently engaged in putting such signboards up as this was a matter which came under their purview.

Dr. Kodagoda added that the process was moving step by step and would thus take time, all due to the lack of funds for the purpose.

He, however, noted that it was also the duty of drivers, who had all passed the examination for learners, to abide by the speed limits which in cities and towns in urban municipal areas was 50 kilometres per hour and 70 km maximum on roads in places outside urban areas, even though the limits were not marked by way of sign posts.

The government has promised the installing of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at critical points on the roads using the latest technology. However, while talk of CCTV cameras has been a slogan for a while on the part of the law enforcement, how many are there and where exactly is not known.

The procedure to be followed with regard to drunk driving involves traffic police officers having to identify drivers under the influence of liquor in the breath, posture and conduct and then forward them for examination by a medical officer of health or district medical officer or take the driver to the relevant Police station and administer a breathalyzer test. The results must subsequently be produced the following day to a Magistrate.

Meanwhile, when questioned as to what formula was used to arrive at the figure of Rs. 25,000 or what factors had been considered in arriving at the said hike, Dr. Kodagoda explained that the decision was a correct one which had been taken by the Ministry of Finance and put forward as a budget proposal.

He added that bus operators’ associations including private bus operators, bus owners associations, bus unions, bus owners unions including provincial bus owners, school transport unions, school bus drivers associations, three-wheeler drivers associations and trishaw drivers unions had discussions with the Minister of Transport Nimal Siripala De Silva and Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake before agreeing to the increase in fines.
Motorcyclists and drivers of vehicles other than buses and trishaws however have opposed the increase, especially calling the ones imposed on speeding and overtaking from the left as wholly impractical.

The Ceylon Motorcyclists’ Association expressing their displeasure to President Maithripala Sirisena in writing queried as to how associations and unions representing buses and trishaws had agreed to the increase.

“What is the basis, standard and policy with regard to how the Police are going to conclude that they find a driver as an errant one especially in relation to overtaking from the left”, Secretary of the Association, Chirantha Amarasinghe questioned. “The authorities do not know what they are doing”.

He said the fine should be charged on the basis of the value of the vehicle and the driver’s monthly income, all of which can be ascertained from the vehicle revenue license.
The vehicle used by the lowest income earners whose economy is not strong is the motorcycle with a small engine and cubic centimeters capacity, he noted.

“There is no debate that the fines should be increased apart from driving without a valid licence or insurance, assigning someone without a valid licence to drive one’s vehicle and driving in an irresponsible manner across railway level crossings and drunk driving. We even call for driving sans a helmet to be fined. Buses and three-wheelers by default go on the left. Are the motorcyclists and the drivers of cars and vans the sole targets,” Amarasinghe further explained.

Meanwhile, the proposed increase of Rs 2,500 as the minimum fine for certain traffic offences has since been rescinded.

“The spot fine amounts are not enough”, Dr. Kodagoda further noted while adding that the Rs 25,000 increase was one way to control matters and to introduce road discipline, yet not the only way.

The cabinet has also approved increasing the fine for buses operating without a passenger service route permit license from the National Transport Commission from Rs 10,000 (minimum charged by a Magistrate’s Court) to Rs 200,000.

Elsewhere, there is another aspect that would arise which has to be considered, which is that there is the high probability that such hefty charges would lead to the propensity for increased exploitation on the part of the Police, a matter which has also been highlighted by many others and one which Dr. Kodagoda too acknowledged was probable due to the high amounts at stake.

“We must find a better way to control this sort of unnecessary situation that could sometimes arise,” he further added.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police Priyantha Jayakody was not available for a comment.