Drunken driving continues to be on the rise in Hyderabad as 1,699 persons were sent to prison by the Hyderabad Traffic Police in the first four months of the year alone.
The officials filed 9,648 chargesheets and imposed fines amounting to Rs 2.53 crore during the same period.
Addressing the media, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Anil Kumar said that the driving licenses of 681 people suspended by various courts for periods ranging from three months to five years.
69 driving licenses were cancelled until April after the owners were caught driving drunk.
Despite steps taken by the officials, the number of cases is steadily on the rise. In 2017, 20,811 chargesheets were filed — an increase of 3,359 chargesheets as compared to 2016.
Why is it on the rise?
The permissible alcohol limit according to the city police is 30 mg/100 ml of blood, i.e. 30 micrograms/100 ml of blood. Anything above that, as recorded by a breath analyser, is considered drunken driving.
"If you consider the entire country, a large number of drunken driving cases are being reported in Hyderabad, despite the strict action being taken. The authorities are ensuring that there is good enforcement and awareness is raised about the issue, but it still seems to be on the rise," says Vinod K Kanumala, the Founder of the Indian Federation of Road Safety.
Vinod also pointed out that there are several repeat offenders.
"Many people, such as auto drivers, are actually are caught two or three times. They have earlier spent a few days in jail and don't seem to be afraid of the consequences. At the same time, if the licenses of these people are cancelled, they lose their daily wages," he adds.
Citing Brazil's example, Vinod argues for stricter penalties.
"In Rio De Janeiro, getting caught drunk driving could mean that an amount close to your salary for the month would be deducted directly from your account. That really dissuades people from indulging in such crimes," he says.
Vinod also says that the Transport and Road Safety Bill — which is pending in the Rajya Sabha — would also help as it would impose high penalties on such crimes.
He also feels that changing the mindset of the people would be difficult and the only way to reduce such incidents would be to change the timings of outlets that serve liquor, and ensure they shut down earlier.
Malcolm Wolfe, the president of Roadkraft, an NGO that works on road safety, says, "Drunken driving is rampant in India and we have almost gotten used to living with it. People take it lightly and feel that they can drive after they have had just one or two drinks, which is not the case."
"However, now that we're trying to implement the Motor Vehicles Act, which is good for the public, there is a certain amount of resistance," he adds.
Reiterating that the Road Transport and Safety Bill would help, Malcolm also argues that the government must take steps to decrease the number of liquor outlets on the streets, which causes traffic jams and also potentially endanger lives.
"In some countries abroad, insurance is very costly if you are caught drunk driving. You could also lose your job because they look at your license while hiring you," Malcolm explains.
The Hyderabad Traffic Police has also tried to name and shame drunk drivers in the past, making first-time offenders hold up placards at signals as part of an awareness campaign.
"While I understand that people might abuse the law if we don't enforce it strictly, there is no need to embarrass them in this way," Malcolm says.
He also points out that the traffic police often sets up barricades at a fixed location when they are on the lookout for drunk drivers.
"The location is always fixed and the police officers stand at one spot. There is also the need for a mobile traffic police team," Malcolm says.
"If there is a law, the police must implement it or discard the law. While there is a good amount of effort being made, we need to be more serious about the implementation," he adds.
Speaking to TNM, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Anil Kumar says, "Awareness and enforcement is being done. We are doing everything that we can. My personal opinion is that the elders in the family and the peer group of those who are indulging in drunken driving should counsel them. The change should be internal so that the mindset can also change."