Traffic police have redoubled their checks on the road, perhaps to minimize road accidents during Dashain and Tihar. But they seem less concerned about regulating traffic flow and punishing traffic rule violators. Instead, they are bent on punishing those who don’t carry driving licenses and vehicle registration books. Thus they have been fining big sums from motorists, of which they are apparently authorized to pocket 15 percent. That said, I don’t mean to undermine the role of hard-working and duty-bound police personnel working tirelessly to regulate traffic in Kathmandu. What I am more concerned about is that traffic problems are on the rise despite these efforts.
Traffic police are supposed to keep traffic flow smooth, reduce noise pollution, remove the wrecks of the broken down vehicles from the road, and check fast speeding vehicles. But these do not seem to be their priority. Nowhere in the world is the checking of driving license and vehicle registration book carried out, unless drivers actually violate traffic rules. Sadly, checking, and sometimes confiscating these documents even for minor offence, has become the established norm in Kathmandu.
Traffic police are expected to constantly monitor traffic problems and find ways to mitigate them. For this educating both the drivers and the commuters at regular intervals is a must. The current practice of financial penalty is not enough to deter traffic violators.
As things stand, scores of other areas are not policed in Kathmandu. Lack of designated bus stops and haphazard parking contribute a lot to the city´s traffic problems. Strangely, traffic police don’t punish public transports even when khalasis, barely hanging on the door, pack in passengers. Microbuses and motorbikes regularly cross speed limits, but the traffic police take no note unless there is a fatal accident. Likewise, public transports constantly blow pressure horns, which goes largely unpunished. Often, police authorities cite understaffing for their inability to control traffic offences. It is true that traffic police is understaffed. But the bigger problem lies elsewhere: Inconstancy of police in enacting and implementing rules.
Traffic police introduce new rules to ensure driver and passenger safety, but they are seldom followed, nor are they updated at regular intervals. For example wearing of helmets was made compulsory for both the motorcycle drivers as well as pillion riders a few years ago. But the rule was soon forgotten. Now only the drivers need to don helmets. Many believe this rule was enforced just to collect money from helmet sellers. Likewise, an order was issued to change number plate patterns, something which had nothing to do with curbing traffic violations. In yet another move, the traffic police made it mandatory for the drivers and the front-seat passengers to fasten seat belts. This rule too is enforced selectively. This kind of neglect propagates a belief that traffic rules are less for public safety than to enrich traffic cops.
TRAFFIC POLICING IN KATHMANDU
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Current traffic rules seem designed more for the benefit of traffic cops than for public safety
Of late, the police have been strictly enforcing the anti-drunk driving (anti-DUI) rule. This is a welcome step, but even this initiative is not flawless. The police on duty check alcohol consumption with breathalyzers and confiscate the licenses of those guilty of DUI, but remarkably the motorists then are let go. This violates the simple logic that if someone is drunk, h/she should not be allowed to drive. Rather, they should have the motorists leave behind their vehicles and arrange for substitute transport. Moreover, DUI checking is normally carried out near expensive hotels, restaurants and party venues which remain open until 11pm. I wonder whether this is not another way of extorting money from motorists.
Traffic police need to adopt effective measures if they really want to ensure road safety. First, they should scrap the provision of awarding 15 percent of the revenues collected from motorists to traffic police on duty. Among other things, 15 percent provision is discriminatory. There are several other public service jobs which are riskier and more difficult than traffic policing. For example, electricians work by hanging several meters above the road risking their lives, firefighters brave burning flames, and army officials work hard for hours, rain or shine. Why aren´t these people provided extra incentives? Second, the traffic police should educate the public on parking, use of motorways and pedestrian safety.
Third, they should punish the drivers found over-speeding, using pressure horns, driving on wrong lanes, violating zebra crossing norms, wrong parking and commuting in public transport dangerously, among others. Only then will public appreciate the traffic police. Ignoring these vital issues and putting the sole focus on fining will not help.
The writer coordinates management program of Kanjirowa National School’s ten-plus-two wing