Posted on September 27th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Despite rules, regulations, heavy fines and suspension or cancellation of driver licences, the number of accidents and deaths on Sri Lankan roads seem to have a serious effect on human life; even after all the exertions and energies put in by the Sri Lanka Police. The reason behind this debacle appears to be that certain sections of the Sri Lankan community, who are addicted to alcohol, seem to dwell on the attitude of, ‘ to hell with the law and let’s get drunk with gal, pol or arrack’! This is indicative when one passes a liquor bar, especially in the evenings after work, and witnessing the throng of people fighting in the queues to buy their daily booze, similar to worker bees in a beehive!

Getting addicted to alcohol is quite a complex issue. While the majority of the world population, especially the middle and business classes enjoy a ‘drink’ socially, the super rich tend to celebrate with champagne! The average person in any society takes alcohol at first with the misconception that it will reduce the stress factor as the impairment of the brain temporarily relieves his anxiety.
Excessive intake of alcohol can gradually make a person addicted to it, and certainly bring disharmony into family life in two ways. In the first instance, a man who becomes addicted to his normal daily quota visits the liquor bar before he arrives at home in a (veri) merry state! In doing so, he may spend all his money or his daily wages before he gets home fully drunk, while the wife struggles to feed the children without sufficient funds to buy food! Minor incidents of this nature can lead to major disasters over a period of time, and end up in violence and murder as well.

Binge drinking
Generally binge-drinking makes one lose one’s inhibitions and affects one’s judgement too in normal day-to-day activities or disturbs one’s reflex actions while driving. This could lead towards a serious problem with the young and the irresponsible who may take sexual risks and get infected with HIV or having to face unplanned pregnancies!

Driving under the influence of liquor is a serious international problem with disastrous effects on many victims. Excessive drinking of alcohol could be linked to suicide too, as 65 per cent of suicides are connected with excessive drinking. Official statistics reveal about 70 per cent of males who commit suicide are alcohol related victims; and out of the young people one third are intoxicated.

United Kingdom

The laws of driving under the influence of liquor vary from country to country. The common factor, however, is the acceptable limit of blood alcohol content before a driver is charged with a crime. Impairment is not reliant upon the type of alcohol consumed, rather the number of drinks over a certain period of time. On average, it is accepted that a drunk driver will drive 80 times under the influence of liquor before he gets first arrested.

Driving or attempting to drive being unfit, ‘through drink’, in the UK carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, a fine up to £5,000 and a minimum 12 months disqualification. If the offence is repeated within ten years of the conviction, driver’s licence gets banned for three years. Causing death by driving under the influence of liquor or other drugs carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail with a minimum two-year driving ban and a requirement to undergo and pass an extended driving test before the offender qualifies to drive again legally.

First Victim

One hundred and nineteen years ago, in the month of September 1897, George Smith, a 25-year-old London taxi driver became the first victim ever arrested for drunken driving. He crashed his cab into a building and was found guilty. He was fined of 25 shillings!!
It is an offence anywhere in the world to drive a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In 1910, the first law against such an offence came into effect in New York. In 1936, Dr. Rolla Harger, Professor of biochemistry and toxicology patented a device similar to a balloon and called it Drunkometer. The Police let suspected drivers breathe into the Drunkometer to determine whether they were intoxicated.

An Indiana State Police Captain, Robert Borkentein, in collaboration with the University Professor Rollar Harger, managed to develop the Drunkometer further into what was known as the Breathalyzer in 1953, which was a scientific manoeuvre and a practical device helping the Police officers to establish whether a driver was intoxicated with alcohol by making him blow into the Breathalyzer; the instrument gauged the proportion of alcohol vapours in the exhaled breath that reflected the level of alcohol in the blood
Law versus Conscience

Drinking habits of human beings cannot be simply eradicated by imposing law and order, but at least many lives could be saved on the road with vigilant policing. In this respect both the Police ‘panda’ cars as well as motor cycle patrol units could do a much more productive task, in addition to the traffic Police attempts, by becoming extra active, vigilant and stopping suspicious drivers at random on a regular basis at anytime of the day or night, rather than the Police allocating and confining to a special task by selecting a definite period and a particular area, once in a blue moon, and publicising the number of offenders convicted during that period through the media!

Motorcycle Police patrol and panda cars in other countries do a remarkable job by being watchful while they are patrolling on the road and detecting motor traffic offenders. In Sri Lanka regrettably it appears to be confined mostly to ceremonial displays. On other occasions policemen on motorbikes on the road appear to ‘have joy rides’ while turning a blind eye to traffic offenders who ride abreast with them! It’s high time that the Traffic Police on mobile patrol in Sri Lanka too emulate international Police procedures. Advanced countries have computer bases linked to vehicle and driver-licensing authorities with mini computers installed inside Police ‘panda’ cars. The moment an offender is stopped, driver’s particulars are checked with the information on the offender’s driving licence to double check on the authenticity of the driver as well as to ascertain the vehicle ownership.

Eye Wash

By increasing the duty on liquor by government budget programmes (as suggested up to 90 per cent) will not help to reduce a drinking man stop his binging. Alcoholism is an ingrained weakness or a disease inside one’s system in the same fashion as no law can control a prejudiced person’s mind on race or religion! The decision has to come from the person and it is always possible for a person with a stronger resolution and self-discipline to achieve it in a jiffy!

One way of controlling drinking and driving would be to increase the trained Police force to be active on a 24/7 basis at every few metres, to be visible by the public, in a similar exercise when a VVIP visits a town or an area! It may cost a fair sum to the department and the government coffers, salary wise, but wouldn’t it be better than losing human life on an escalating scale?

The other vital factor has to be, by making the facilities available and to treat traffic Police officers as human beings. At present the poor chaps are seen on the streets for long hours, baking in the hot sun and getting wet in the rain! Even during dark hours they take their life into their hands by standing in the middle of junctions attempting to control traffic without being seen, by on coming drivers due to the dazzling effect of headlight beams. How many members’ of the Police force have died due to such tragic accidents, by standing in the dark while on duty?

What was suggested by a senior Police officer once was to stagger their duty hours to make their job pleasanter and to raise their morale. It would be practical to have 2-3 shifts, say from 6 am to 2 pm, 2 pm to 10 pm and a skeletal mobile patrol service on the roads from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. Such a procedure would undoubtedly help to overcome the present chaotic and woeful situation on the roads. Undoubtedly, it is going to be a rather expensive task and a burden on the govt. coffers, but that would be one way of overcoming the present day human tragedy with drinking, driving and causing preventable deaths to people on the road.

Another sad incidence which has not yet been solved one hundred percent in Sri Lanka (even under the Yahapalanaya) appears to be that the law does not apply to everyone equally with much of bragging and boasting by the new administration. No country can progress until the law in the country is applied to every citizen equally, without favouring the rich and the powerful or being prejudiced. In this respect the IGP has an immense responsibility to execute his task with a convincing pecking order.

In advanced countries some vehicle owners install ignition interlocks in their vehicles, which prevent the car from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol level is above a certain limit. These devices require a driver to breath into a sensor, which is attached to the dashboard. Despite all such measures available today with the advanced technology, millions of people get arrested on a daily basis driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Perhaps, it is high time that the motor vehicle manufacturers the world over begin to install this ignition interlock system to their new products as part of the inbuilt accessories.


  1. Nimal Says:

    You must agree that British drivers are more careful,tolerant and civilized than our lot in SL. Our politicians set a bad example by allowing their siblings drink drive and the politicians themselves drive like mad,always seems to be in a hurry with blue lights in the front flashing,as if they own the roads and others don’t matter.Drink driving is a small matter but the way our divers respect one another and pedestrians is the most serious problems in our roads.
    My son is a police officer in UK is now in Sl is shocked the way they drive. In spite of many warnings my driver annoys me with his careless driving,giving no consideration to other uses,and use of horn every second.I may have to get rid of him.Whatever culture we boast about is not reflected on the roads and in general.It seems the politicians are out to fleece the tax payers showing no regard to the people.

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