It made no sense at all. The driving licenses of drunk drivers would be confiscated, but the motorists would be let go with small hand-written chits they were supposed to deposit with traffic police the next day to get their vehicles back—after paying Rs 1,000 in fines and attending mandatory traffic class. If drunk drivers really did pose a threat to themselves and all those plying valley roads, on foot or on different vehicles, there was a strong case for confiscating both driving licenses and the vehicles of the inebriated drivers on the spot. Thankfully, though late, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) is finally plugging the loophole. From now on, the traffic police will hold on to both the driving licenses and vehicles of those caught driving under the influence. But that still leaves the question of whether a zero-tolerance policy on drunk driving is the best solution to minimize road accidents.
MTPD certainly thinks so, and has hard data to back up its claim. For instance, in the first six months of 2012 (with the zero-tolerance policy in place) there were just 49 accidents inside Kathmandu valley compared to 253 for the same period in 2011 (when it was not). If these data are true and if indeed there is strong proof of link between drinking (even moderate) and accidents, MTPD’s new policy is sure to minimize accidents further, by adding to the inconvenience of the offending motorist who has to find an alternate means of transport to get home and will no longer be able to ride his vehicle by showing the traffic-rule violation chit. The new policy of cancelling the driver’s license if the same person is implicated in more than five drunk driving cases should also help compliance.
Interestingly, traffic police have had to go back to their old method of detecting alcohol: sniffing out the trace of alcohol from the suspected driver’s breath. This after many of the breathalyzers imported to calibrate the level of alcohol in the breath of motorists started malfunctioning. We hope that the traffic police would be able to import more reliable breathalyzers with the help of increased collections in fines. The crude method of trying to sniff out alcohol from human breath is not just unhygienic, it also fails to convince people that the traffic police is serious about its effort to cut down drunk driving.
But irrespective of the effectiveness of the zero-tolerance policy, MTPD will first have to get the basics right. There are not enough traffic lights along the clogged valley roads; even the ones in existence don’t work properly. Separately, a couple of months ago, there was considerable enthusiasm among traffic police about making pedestrians use over-head bridges, and pedestrians not using them were being fined on the spot. But the initiative seems to have fizzled out, as pedestrians can once again be spotted scurrying across busy roads rather than making little extra effort of mounting the overhead bridge. Unless MTPD gets these small but important steps to better traffic management right, people will find it hard to believe they can be trusted with much more complicated road rules like scientific regulation of drunk driving