Utter madness
Posted on September 18th, 2010

Dr. Tilak Fernando Courtesy Daily News

There is nothing more irritating, annoying and confusing than when a police officer takes over electronically synchronized traffic lights and creates a complete muddle of the situation when he orders motorists waiting at ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”red lightsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ to proceed while those facing ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”greenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ are held back. At a point of collision between a motorist coming from ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”greenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, oblivious to Police command, and crashes into another vehicle, whom does the police charge for dangerous driving? Where does the Motor Traffic Law stand in such a situation?

Police overpowering traffic signals is seemingly becoming an unwritten addendum to the motor traffic law. Junctions opposite Welikada police station, Rajagiriya intersection and Borella main junction are typical examples, to quote a few, where lights are switched off completely during peak traffic times and weekends for human eyes and brains to take over from electronic eyeball and judgment.

This is a vital area where the authorities have to balance their act in fathoming whether an electronically synchronized brain or grey matter in a human psyche is more effective! Common sense will prevail that the present system is totally foolhardy which creates mayhem on roads; it tends to waste Government money on policemenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s overtime pay, aid pollution to the environment by letting engines run for longer periods than necessary and ultimately makes the traffic queues longer. In simple terms it has a totally negative effect!


A policeman handling traffic. File photo

Serious road accidents claiming human lives are highlighted almost on a daily basis by every media in this country. It has become an eye sore that private bus drivers overtaking all other vehicles at speed, with no regard to other road users. We hear containers colliding with petrol tankers, busses crashing into vans, callous drivers making public highways into a race track, unroadworthy vehicles while transporting 36-38 tonne weighing containers speeding and overtaking other vehicles on fast lanes while the traffic police turn a blind eye. Some juggernauts do not lock containers to trailers; some are without any locking devices at all but are placed on the flat trailer just to balance with its weight. In simple terms all these are turning to be fiends on public highways. Say no more, just think about the jack-knifing of a 40 ft container at Kelanitissa Power station recently.

What are the speed limits on Sri Lankan roads and how do they relate to motor vehicles? Hearsay stories doing rounds advise people that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”no speed limits are in force at present pending on a court caseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢! On an alleged traffic offence case between Wattala Police Vs Premasena Dissanayake about two years ago, judgment has been against the police. On a Fundamental Rights case, former Chief Justice highlighted the existence of different sign boards depicting various speed limits that existed and stressed 56kmph in city limits and 72 on outside city limits.

It is apparent that in some areas police are still holding speed detectors and issue penalty notices for ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”dangerous drivingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Motorists are naturally confused. These are two different categories though, but both can contribute to accidents. With that back drop I put the million dollar question to OPA panel who offers professional advice through the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Daily NewsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Their reply on June 24, 2010 stated as follows:

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-We contacted the DIG, Police in charge of Traffic and he rightly pointed out that the Police are only the enforcement authority under the Highways Ministry. We contacted person responsible for speed limits in the RDA and according to her the speed limits of 32, 56 and 72 kmph were the old speed limits prior to 1995.

From 1995, speed limits were determined on the basis of built up areas. The speed limit of 40 kmph is applicable to three wheelers and land vehicles such as tractors etc and this speed limit for this category is applicable both in built up areas as well as in the no built up areas. All other vehicles will have a speed limit of 50 kmph in the built up areas. In the non-built up areas motor coaches and lorries will have a speed limit of 60 kmph and all other vehicles ( with exemption of three wheelers and land vehicles) will have a speed limit of 70 kmph.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Whilst most of the sign boards currently on display have the current speed limits, the drawings of these boards are not exactly specific. The preparations of new drawing for the sign boards with these same speed limits, as described above, are still with the Legal DraftsmanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s office.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-We understand, thus, there are now four speed limits based on the category of vehicles and built up areas………ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Four different speed limits to monitor vehicles on congested traffic? This is nothing but lunacy and no wonder police are left high and dry when it comes to enforcing the motor traffic law!

It is high time that the law makers view this chaotic and antiquated system with a view to making things simple for all, where even a magic eye of a camera can detect errant motorists.

Simultaneously, let the law enforcement authorities deploy traffic police on productive assignments rather than making them waste time at traffic lights and be seen as interfering.

Let traffic officers be strict on undisciplined drivers, those who overtake from left, motor cyclists who always ride on wrong lanes, impatient red light jumpers even at night time, three wheelers, containers and lorries on fast lanes and cyclists who always ride in the night without lights.

We are yet to see, like in other countries, mobile traffic officers on motor cycles doing rounds with a view to nab defiant motorists and taking them to task.

There is no point in choosing ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hide outsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ or to be concealed behind trees to book law breakers and start issuing penalty notices, at times for the most negligible motor offence, just to get police officersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ duty ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”bonus pointsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ upgraded, but implementation of the law should be proper and effective.

Ronald Boon (New Zealander) resident in Sri Lanka had to say this:

So much of despondency has been expressed by countless number of people time and again in the press and on TV in this country to highlight the chaotic conditions on our public highways, road indiscipline, dark streets, lethargy or the ineffective law enforcing authorities. Despite all such lamenting, it is apparent that nothing concrete seems to take effect (at least visually). Metaphorically speaking it has become like Beeri Alinta Veena Gahanna wage (playing violins to deaf elephants)!

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Ronald Boon (New Zealander) resident in Sri Lanka had to say this:

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I read your article today about driving in Sri Lanka and fully agree with you. I am a foreigner living here since November 2009 and I am really fed up with the driving style in this country! Although this is a beautiful country, it will be pleasant if you can reach your destination in safety without having to hold your breath all the time when you are driving, especially when buses come towards you at full speed on the wrong side of the road and from behind straight at you sounding ear splitting horns! These drivers transport children, old folk, pregnant women and even infants as passengers and how foolishly they risk the lives of many commuters because of their impatience and driving at break neck speedsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Every time I embark on a road journey I am petrified because of these impatient selfish and careless bus drivers who have no regard at all for other road users or passengers. It is pathetic to see passengers squeezed in like sardines just to earn an extra buck. I cannot really understand how women can travel in those buses in such situationsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚!

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Another thing that send shivers down my spine is to see whole families – two adults and two children- riding on motorbikes (at times parents wearing helmets but the children). May be their social conditions compel them to adapt to such illegal and dangerous maneuvers on the road. Why is Traffic Police turning a blind eye to this type of blatant violation of the Law?ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Motor Traffic Act

I chuckled while reading what P W S Johnston (Trincomalee) recently put forward to the Professional Advice team in the Daily News on the subject of using Mopeds less than 49 cc. Johnston has been riding a TVS 49cc category moped without holding a valid driving licence, helmet or registration certificate for his vehicle which he said was due to a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-concession allowed by the Motor Traffic Act for users less than 50 ccƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚.

He seemed shocked to learn that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the existed Motor Traffic Act has been amended in 2009 showing two categories of motor cycles – from 100 cc upwards and below making it compulsory for all motorcycles (even 25 cc or 20 cc that will enter the market in the future) to be registered, revenue licence obtained, insured and helmet wearing compulsory. Although it has become mandatory from 2009, violators of the Traffic Law are still abundant on our roads where the law enforcement authority does not take any notice of. The fact that 99 percent of motorcycle riders are wet behind the ears about the motor traffic law does not seem to concern the law enforcement authorities. ItƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s a tragedy.

There is nothing more serious than making the petrol tank of a motor bike as a seat for little children to ride on, while mother and another child sit on the pillion (at times even infants being held by the mother) and the rider oblivious to his responsibility keeps on cutting in and out and squeezing through traffic jams like cockroaches in haste risking the lives of the whole family.

Small children seated on the pillion at times fall asleep due to the gush of wind on their faces. How many times the public have yelled at some riders to warn about such dangers? The worst is when law enforcement Police officers themselves blatantly break the law in high and mighty fashion! Where does the Law fit in here? Does human need be given preference over protection of human lives? Should the laws of the country be allowed to be taken lightly and make a mockery of the whole issue? Why do we need laws?

Human nature

It is very unfortunate that piles of our regulations are confined to statute books only and today no one seems to be seriously thinking about it, which is a shame. Can we put this down to lethargy or the incompetence on the part of those responsible for implementing the Law?

Law and Order generally is the collection of rules imposed by an authority to suit a particular society. In general, it is a code of practice which is required to implement and enforce by an authority according to which an agent or a power acts.

Law can be classified into many areas. It is also defined as a rule or body of rules of conduct inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society.

Otherwise we can scrap the lot saying its ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”crapƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and go back to the jungle law!

However, hats off to the Kandy Police who are seen to deal with one problem – jaywalkers – This is a systematic manner to educate the public which other Police areas should emulate.

Imposing heavy fines on jaywalkers may sound harsh but there is nothing like administering bitter medicine to a chronic disease.

2 Responses to “Utter madness”

  1. Sunil Vijaya Says:

    In a country where ORDER is construed as DISORDER you go no further. Apparently under the guidance of Mahinda the roads have become passable with relative ease, which may have worsen the situation of unsafe driving, as pot holes did slow down drivers. However, the sloppiness of Sri Lankans in whatever area you tend to look into is apparent. I nearly got killed inside a bus, let alone outside!, as the speeding bullet was overtaking few vehicles on the wrong side of the road and ended up breaking and crashing into a 3-wheeler(probably everyone inside was killed) and the bus swaying side to side with a possiblity of overturning, injuring and killing passengers. Our bureaucrats and politicians are more woried about the next elections, voting, constitutions, litigation etc. rather than attempting to solve mundane problems in the country. Competition between private and CTB bus drivers for passengers and for showing off their driving skills have contributed to this sad situation and incompetency of the Ministry of Transport could be the main cause. These letters or comments have no effect on the psyche of these miserable people.

  2. De Costa Says:

    Sunil,
    Tell your old friend Mahainda to do something. If you cannot do it, these writers cannot.

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