With the Union cabinet approving the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, 2016, those caught for drunken driving will have to have really deep pockets, as the fine payable in court has been enhanced to Rs 10,000 for first-time offenders.
Bengaluru, with a large number of young working population, has the dubious distinction of having the most number of drunken driving cases registered by police across Indian metros. In fact, the number of cases compared to those at New Delhi and Mumbai is more than double.
Bengaluru Traffic Police said in the year 2014, there were 55,138 cases registered against drivers for drunken driving; in 2015, 62,576 cases were registered and in 2016, till July, there were 27, 534 cases registered. Of these, two percent have been consistently women drivers who have been booked.
In both Mumbai and Delhi, police register 20,000 cases per year.
According to the new amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act, 2016, under Section 185 that deals with drunken driving, the fines have been increased from the current Rs 2,000 to a whopping Rs 10,000 to deter would-be offenders.
Bengaluru’s dubious distinction can perhaps be explained in many ways. One, is that the city has a large young population and that there is an over dependence on private vehicles due to a lack of an efficient public transport system. "The number of private vehicles have touched 65 lakh in a city with a one-crore population,’’ says former Additional Commissioner (Traffic) M.A. Saleem, who now heads the Anti Corruption Bureau.
He points out that public transport is very good in Mumbai and New Delhi, where there is a good network of suburban and metro rail systems.
Incidentally, as Bengaluru’s public transport system improved in one part of the city where the metro rail started its services a few months ago, there has been a significant fall in the number of drunken driving cases registered by the West division traffic police. The Metro ridership on the Purple line, which cuts through the city centre and connects distant suburbs, has also increased. Ever since, the metro ridership has increased to 1.7 lakh passengers a day and is expected to cross four lakh a day once a crucial tunnel link opens, enabling commuters to change over between the Green and Purple lines that run in two corridors.
Secondly, a survey by the Ministry for Road Transport also found that the Bengaluru police have double the number of breathalysers compared to their Mumbai and Delhi counterparts. But that may not necessarily be a good yardstick to compare the number of cases registered.
In Pune, for the first time in many years, the number of drunken driving cases registered crossed the 5,000 mark in 2015. Maharashtra government statistics reveal that the numbers are increasing every year and from mid-2015 onward, the city has been consistently registering more than 500 cases per month, baffling traffic police who have now been reporting a surge in such cases even on weekdays. Pune has a large number of young students and has highest number of registered two-wheelers in India.
According to the current Motor Vehicles Act, the permissible limit of alcohol in 100 millilitre of blood is 40 mg. That is equivalent to a 30ml of hard liquor or a pint of beer. Saleem said routinely traffic policemen encounter drunk drivers with two-and-a-half times that limit.
There are many companies and individuals who have been developing or demonstrating technology to overcome this menace.
Muthu Kumar Ramachandran, a 1982 born Coimbatore lad, designed a device named `Hi-Tech Drink and Drive Preventive System for Automobiles’ which once installed in the dashboard of any vehicle, including a two-wheeler, does not allow the vehicle to start if the driver is drunk. In case it does, the vehicle will stop within 30 seconds if the pulse sensor in the device detects an abnormal pulse rate. This innovation was featured in India book of records three years ago.
Alkosens AB, has been working on building an innovative solution to prevent drunk driving and help make roads safer. The developers are using bio-metric authentication in combination with nano-scale sniffers to create their solution.
The company is currently working on two products. One authenticates that the same user takes the Blood Alcohol Content test and the other product continuously monitors the driver’s breath to prevent drinking on the go.
Incidentally, three Indians, Pramod Kumar, Yash Todar and Sambit Ghosh are the brains behind Alkosens and are based in Stockholm, Sweden.
The new amendments also proposes uniform rules for drunken driving across the country based on the Karnataka model. Here, once the breathalyser spot check reveals alcohol above permissible limits, the driver has no option but to surrender the vehicle and take a different mode of transport home. If a co-passenger, who is not drunk and certified fit to drive the vehicle, the police will let the offender go but not before seizing the drunk driver’s driving licence and registration documents. The offender has to present themselves in court where a maximum Rs 2,000 fine is levied for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders are levied upto Rs 2,500 and may even be sentenced to a certain prison term as the offence prescribes a maximum six months in prison. But this is rarely enforced.
For repeat offenders, in Bengaluru, police write to the regional transport office to suspend their driving licence. So far, nearly, 3,000 licences have been suspended for the offence.
In New Delhi, the non-profit Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD) has been active for 14 years educating the public about the perils of drunkards at the wheel. Its founder and president Prince Singhal started this initiative as he was “deeply disturbed by the rampant loss of life caused due to drunk drivers.’’
Singhal says CADD projects addresses issues such as drunk driving awareness, minimum age of consumption, responsible drinking, underage drinking, enforcements and stronger legislation – all these help safety on roads. With its efforts along with police across major cities, CADD claims to have increased the rate of prosecution of drunk drivers from just four a year to almost four per week.
And with the new amendments in place, it's not just steep fines; a stay in jail is also guaranteed, especially if such offenders are involved in accidents that have caused loss of life or grievous injuries.