Does our lax attitude towards following the most basic rules and not valuing human life deserve stricter penalty?

Thailand is taking drunken drivers to morgues Does India need stricter punishment for traffic violators Image for representation
news Monday, July 04, 2016 - 19:22

July 1 was supposed to mark a new chapter in ten-year-old Ramya's life. It was the first day at a new school for the Hyderabad resident. Her family members had come to pick her up after school. 

As they were returning home in their Santro, an allegedly drunk student rammed his car into theirs. While one person in Ramya's family died, it injured all the others. 

Ramya is critical and has been kept on ventilator support.

A day after, on Saturday, a 26-year-old allegedly drunk woman hit a 45-year-old man in Chennai with her Audi, killing him on the spot. Munnusamy, the victim, was the only earning member in his family of four, including his wife and two children.

The menace of drunken driving has claimed thousands of lives in the country over the recent few years. 

According to NCRB data, in 2014, "driving under influence of drug/alcohol contributed 1.6% of total road accidents which rendered 7,398 persons injured and 2,591 deaths in the country."

Section 185 in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 states that drunken driving- for the first offence- shall attract a punishment of maximum six months in jail or a fine which may extend to Rs 2,000, or both. If committed for a second time within three years of having carried out a similar offence, the penalty will be imprisonment for a maximum of two years, or with fine which may extend to three thousand rupees, or both.

Is it time for stricter punishments for lawbreakers?

In April this year, during the Thai new year holiday, the Thailand cabinet approved a "shock" campaign to deter drunk driving in the country. 

After all, Thailand has been ranked second in the world after Libya for having the deadliest roads in the world by the WHO and most of the road fatalities are reportedly caused due to drunk driving. 

The Star.com reported that over 1,700 people involved in drunk driving were taken to the country's morgues since the campaign was launched by the Department of Probation. 

"In the past, we have tried campaigns, but the statistics were not going down. So why not try other activities? What kind of activity would create more shock and worry? So we came up with this project. Drunken driving — you get sent to the morgue," Prasarn Mahaleetrakul, deputy director of the Department of Probation, told the website. 

Part of the program includes convicted drunk drivers to do community service and work in a hospital morgue or emergency room for a specified period of time. 

But will such a shock treatment work as a deterrent and discourage people from drunken driving in India? 

MN Sreehari, a traffic expert, feels that Thailand's move is not really a very strict one. 

He says if the police in India want, they can catch more offenders by just keeping a vigil outside bars and pubs. But this does not often happen due to an implicit "understanding" between the administration and those operating the joints. 

"In India, some people who consume alcohol conceal it from their family members. In such cases, if found driving under the influence of alcohol, their families or spouses must be informed or their photographs or names must be made public," he says. 

The concept of fine may not exactly work here because people can just get off by paying a fine. "Some kind of social responsibility should be put on them," he says adding that there is a need for physical punishment, i.e. putting violators in prison. 

He narrates a true incident between a judge and a cop in London. One day, a judge broke a traffic rule following which the policeman handed him an address and asked him to be present there on the stated time. 

The judge went to the location and found out it was an educative session about road safety and driving rules. The policeman was late and apologised to the judge on reaching. The judge however asked the cop not to apologise and told him that he had actual learnt about proper driving that day. 

"But in India," he says, "we do not have people like him. Indians are thick-skinned. No one bothers about educational and awareness programmes. And so our punishment should be severe."

Prasanna Poornachandra of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care is of the opinion that a shock programme like that implemented in Thailand may not necessarily work if we expect a change in the mindsets of people.

What she suggests instead is that the value of others’ lives and our responsibility towards it should be inculcated in children right from the early years by their families and educational institutions. “Children should have educational awareness in the early years, so they can think and care for other people,” she says.

“The issue at hand is not just about drunken driving. It is not about you and your car. It is about the environment around you when you drink and drive, with many people around. The safety of others should come before your own safety,” she adds.

Also read: 

Nine-year-old on ventilator in Hyderabad hospital after allegedly drunk students ram car

Chennai Audi drunken driving: ‘He was dead, all she said was sorry’, says victim’s family

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