Merits of Demerit Points | Daily News

Merits of Demerit Points

Road accidents have been taking a heavy toll of lives in recent times. Some time ago, reports indicated that road accident fatalities closely rivaled those killed during the 30-year conflict.

In some instances, we find several members from the same family getting killed in road accidents. A 14-year-old schoolgirl and her father were knocked down and killed by a drunk driver in Mirigama a few days ago. The father had been waiting at the bus stand to escort the daughter who was returning from a tuition class when they were mowed down within sight of their home. The driver continued without stopping but was apprehended by the villagers. The driver had been placed in remand custody and his driving license impounded.

This perhaps will be the last heard about the matter following the usual pattern, with the breadwinner of the family and a young blossoming lass paying with their lives due to the recklessness of a fiend behind the wheel.

It is in this backdrop that moves are afoot to create a ‘Demerit’ Points system for all traffic offences, as practised in many other countries. According to our main story yesterday, Minister of State for Transport Lasantha Alagiyawanna said demerit points will be given to drivers when they commit a traffic offence. The driver's license of those with more than 24 demerit points will be cancelled for a period yet to be determined, he added. The State Minister was hopeful that this step will reduce the number of road accidents.

Any measure taken to reduce the rising number of fatal road accidents is to be welcomed. However, it is also doubtful if this method will act as a sufficient deterrent to motorists - especially those with a penchant for ‘showing off’ and acting recklessly. The coming festive season will, as usual, see an escalation of road accidents where Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is the norm. Worse, some take the wheel after consuming narcotics such as ICE.

Nothing can be more dangerous than spoiled and drunk brats behind a wheel or a motorbike handle. The Police should be tough on all Christmas and New Year revellers who use public roads as race tracks.

Nothing short of the severest of punishments will help rein in errant drivers particularly those engaged in DUI. Like in the Mirigama incident, there is no knowing how many breadwinners have been lost to families after being knocked down by drunk drivers. If the driver concerned is an individual with means he takes the easy way out by offering financial compensation to the affected families and the matter ends there with no legal action pursued (in the Mirigama incident too, the driver had offered a paltry Rs. 400,000 to the family).

How will these families survive in the long run when the compensation money is exhausted, unless of course a very large sum is paid to such families to run deep into the future? Hence, offenders should be made to part with a stipulated amount decided by a Court depending on the number of members of the family to cover children's schooling and other important expenses.

If not, the prevailing law should be changed to slap long prison sentences on the offenders. Nothing short of the severest punishment will keep errant motorists on their guard. Cancelling licenses or introducing demerit points, though welcome, is not going to slow down road fatalities per se.

According to the State Minister, five million fine sheets (Dada Kola) are issued to motorists every year for traffic offences, but the same offences are often repeated by the same motorists. We are not being told how the demerit points will be calculated, but going from the above it is likely that the offences will be repeated - demerit points or not.

A more viable option should be explored to reduce the number of road deaths. Fitness tests should be made compulsory for drivers of heavy vehicles and an age limit imposed for those driving long-haul vehicles. This is because reflexes matter when driving and those long in the tooth are slow to react resulting in their vehicles going out of control.

The process adopted in issuing competence certificates by driving schools too should be brought under scrutiny, since these are often issued to persons unfit to sit behind a wheel, either for monetary consideration or other pretexts such as going abroad for driving jobs at short notice.

Private buses are the worst offenders in terms of adhering to the Highway Code and not surprisingly, Traffic Police look the other way since it is common knowledge that many private buses are owned by high ranking Police Officers. It is questionable as to how demerit points are going to be applied to private buses in such instances. Bribery in instances of slapping demerit points too cannot be ruled out given the notoriety acquired by Traffic Police officers in this regard.

State Minister Alagiyawanna should also ensure that the demerit points scheme is applied even handedly without discriminating between the rich in posh vehicles while clamping down only on ordinary folk such as three-wheeler operators.

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