The dilemma of traffic police: to penalize road traffic violations or not


MANOJ KARKI, KATHMANDU, June 14: Buoyed by the success of the anti-drunken driving rule locally known as MaPaSe, traffic police in Nepal has been coming up with one rule after another to manage the unruly traffic in the country.

The latest one was against jaywalking or a pedestrian crossing a street outside of the zebra cross. The move as traffic police claimed was in wake of the significant number of pedestrians falling victims to road accident. Latest data show that 65 per cent of the deaths in road traffic injuries involve pedestrians around the world. According to Nepal traffic police, 39 pedestrians died in road accidents in the last fiscal year 2015/16.

However, unlike the previous successful rulings including against driving under the influence of alcohol and lane violation, the rule to punish unruly pedestrians did not go well with the public. It also became a matter of ridicule in the social media, with cartoons aplenty showing traffic police trapping innocent pedestrians. Don’t forget to carry two hundred rupees before leaving home for travel—was the message everyone was giving after traffic police started to impose a penalty of Rs. 200 to pedestrians crossing the road haphazardly.

The criticism was basically targeted on the road infrastructure that is not pedestrian-friendly across the country. There are not enough zebra cross, not even traffic signs and at many places no footpath at all. Furthermore, many felt that the imposition of a fine of two hundred rupees on pedestrians was quite severe. Of course, the intention of traffic police was right to make sure that the pedestrians too follow the traffic rule along with the motorists, but it seems to have come without much research and study.
But then from the perspective of many motorists, pedestrians too are to blame for causing road accidents as well as unnecessary traffic jam in the urban areas. Pedestrians crossing the road from wherever they want is a common scene on roads across the country. Many unruly pedestrians are seen crossing the road just below the overhead bridge while some just give a hand and run across, forcing rushing motorists to apply brakes all of a sudden.

However, lack of necessary preparation to impose a rule that required it to be matched with pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, traffic police was compelled to withdraw the decision to penalize the pedestrians. As per the direction of the home minister to inspector general of police and head of the traffic police division, the decision on imposing a fine on the traffic rule-violators was withdrawn.
Traffic police has however said it would continue to apprehend the pedestrians who do not follow the traffic rule, and they will be taken for the mandatory traffic rule lecture. Penalty in cash however will not be applicable.

Though it should not be a matter of even debate whether a certain traffic rule should be imposed or not, circumstances have made the issue of imposition of a traffic rule a matter of discussion. And there have been people for and against it. Nevertheless, the latest episode of the imposition and then immediate withdrawal of a traffic rule should be taken as a lesson ahead, for the traffic police also to impose any rules only after completing the necessary preparations for the same.

Pedestrians and motorists alike also should not wait for the traffic police to impose strict rules to implement a decision that already exists. As now it has become a habit for the law abiders in the Nepal to follow a rule only after it becomes very strict it comes along with some penalty.

Drunken driving or driving under the influence was an offense since ages, but motorists never followed it. And it would have come to the notice of the traffic police only if there was a fatal accident involving a motorist who is under the influence of alcohol. Soon after an accident, motorists were sent to hospitals for a mandatory blood test to determine the level of alcohol consumption.

But then it changed all of a sudden when traffic police decided to bring into a force a rule that was already applicable but not really enforced. The single rule has changed the way of living especially for those living in the urban areas of the country. Social gatherings have now become different, with motorists either taking turns to driver or leaving their vehicles home before going to attend a social event that involves drinking alcohol.

Rule for the pedestrian is a must too, given the increasing percentage of the victims of road accidents comprising the pedestrians. Another rule that traffic police needs to impose is to bar public transporters from carrying passengers more than the seating or standing capacity, and to impose strictly the drop-and-pick-up rule. Support of the passengers and transport entrepreneurs is key to help traffic police impose discipline in the roads across the country, and thereby bring down the rate of road traffic fatalities and make driving and walking in the roads safe and secured. RSS