By FHA Shibly –
The Sri Lankan government has decided to increase traffic fines to Rs 25000 for seven serious traffic offences – owning a vehicle driven by person without valid insurance, speeding, overtaking from the wrong side, driving without a valid driving license, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving without a valid insurance, and Rail gate infractions. The police have been told to be stern with offenders. The Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said this initiative is aimed at reducing the number of traffic accidents and not with the objective of raking in revenue for the government.
Now coming to the issue of how it will affect driver behavior in the country. There are always approximately three groups of drivers in any country: the set of drivers that religiously follow all driving laws and regulations, second is the set of drivers that follow rules depending on the penalty in question, and the third group is the one that does not care much about traffic rules due to plain old apathy or affluence.
The first and third group are the combined minority consisting of less than 30 percent of all driving population. The second group consists of the majority of around 70 percent who follow traffic regulations based on penalties imposed. The accidents that are caused are mainly by the second and the third groups which are most liable to commit traffic violations. The existing traffic rules and regulation are mostly aimed at these groups.
Research from established survey firms has shown that drivers keep committing traffic violations because they think the consequences of getting caught are manageable. Hence they think it is fine to ignore traffic rules once a while to get to a place faster or just for the thrill of it. Now if the penalty imposed for a particular traffic violation is too severe to ignore, such as imprisonment or heavy fines, the driver will think twice before flouting traffic rules.
The Sri Lankan government has clearly got the right idea by hiking up the traffic penalties imposed on serious traffic violations, since any motorist would never “ color outside the lines” when it comes to driving or riding! This would change driver behavior dramatically because no individual would run the risk of being jailed just to get to someplace early. And even if there was an option of paying a fine, if the fine is considerably high that would be equally effective at keeping traffic violators in check.
While drinking and driving and Rail gate infractions are grave offenses deserving of the severe penalty imposed by the Sri Lankan government; the rest of the traffic violations that were included in the same bracket for punishment seems a little excessive. There is bound to a general uproar from the public regarding such heavy fines for seemingly minor infractions.
It is always best to grade traffic violations on severity, that way there is a sense of fairness and exercise of restraint when it comes to traffic legislations. Other countries let most
Minor traffic violations go with the proverbial slap on the wrist by adding a few points on the license and letting the violators go (USA).
As long as the government of any country has people safety in mind and introduces fines accordingly, it will definitely benefit the citizens of the said country. If heavy fines and penalties were to be imposed on all traffic violations of non-serious nature as well, it would lead to large-scale dissent among the public. This would lead to repealing of the penalties and wasting the time of the people as well as the government. So the bottom line is to focus on making serious traffic violations completely unacceptable while imposing smaller fines and penalties on less serious offenses. This will ensure that traffic incidents will go down and keep the majority of motorists happy since the roads will be accident-free.
*FHA. Shibly, Lecturer, South Eastern University of Sri Lanka
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