Nov 23, 2016

Traffic fines: Poor cornered, elite escape

The revised fines for traffic violations, while being welcomed by the public at large, have been criticized by private bus owners and motorcyclists. It has also been suggested that fines are charged based on the vehicle class.

The Weekend Nation spoke to several stakeholders on the increase in the minimum fine to Rs. 2,500.

Following are the responses:

E-card instead of licenses

The National Council for Road Safety said that the increase in spot fine Rs 2,500 was justified as it was an avenue towards reducing and preventing accidents.

Elsewhere, the proposal for buses and three-wheelers to use the left lane was temporarily suspended as the roads at present only have double lanes and with the presence of pavements there is no space for a third lane.

By 2020 however, under the Ministry of Megapolis, a lot of the routes in Colombo are scheduled to be made to have a third lane.

When queried as to whether they would be introducing a system of reducing points off the driving license for infractions of road laws and rules, Chairman of the Council, Dr. Sisira Kodagoda said that they had already begun work on it and would be introducing it by April or May next year.

“An electronic card (e-card) will be issued instead of the present driving license. It will have 24 points, of which points will be knocked off per violation. Once the points become zero, the e-card, which is the license gets cancelled. The Department of Motor Traffic which does the registration of vehicles is also working in this regard,” he said.

Rs. 2,500 fine may not be practical – Transport Ministry

Secretary – Ministry of Transport, Nihal Somaweera said that the Rs 2,500 minimum fine increase even though it was meant to prevent accidents may not sometimes be practical and therefore the details of the matter should be gone into thoroughly. The matter regarding the fine was discussed as an amendment to the Motor Traffic Act by a Ministerial committee two months ago and a certain increase in the fine was proposed by this Parliamentary committee, he added.

He also explained that aside to the proposed revision of fines in the Act, other amendments proposed to the Act include the inclusion of demerit points in the driving license, the draft Bill for the enactment of which would have to be presented to Parliament and passed for implementation. A proposal for having four-wheeler type vehicles to replace three-wheelers is also under consideration.

NTC not involved in fining formula

The National Transport Commission said that they were not involved in the process and did not possess information about the fine structure.

Chairman of the Commission, M.A.P. Hemachandra added that the Commission had participated in a discussion with the Ministry of Justice three or four months back with regard to amending the section on fines in the Motor Traffic Act.

“We do not know whether the Ministry has finalized the matter yet or whether the budgetary proposal is the same one. The Legal Draftsman’s Department and the Attorney General’s Department would be involved. This is a long process. There is a restriction on the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic and the Registrar of Motor Vehicles gazetting it. This would have to come through a Cabinet paper, a Bill in Parliament to amend the Act,” he explained.

Transport professionals criticize fine

Senior Professor at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Prof. K. Amal S. Kumarage said that both the proposal to increase fines to a minimum of Rs 2,500 and the opposition to it were unacceptable.

“The system of fines and rates must be reasonable and effective,” he added.
“If the amount is raised too much, in an environment where there is less than perfect enforcement of the law, it could lead to abuse as this increase would provide an unnecessary leverage to and for the Police,” he noted.

He said that if the amount was not revised according to the wage rate of the people, it would become ineffective. “The wage rate now is slightly more than double than what it was a while back,” he further said, while adding that earlier the fines were between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

“The rate of inflation too must be considered. The amount must be in keeping with the daily wage level of transport operators including bus drivers and travel operators,” he said.

He said that a fine of Rs 1,500 would have been a reasonable amount, adding that a revision and an increase should be affordable.

There are legal provisions which allow for Magistrates to impose higher fines, even up to Rs 100,000, in prosecutions.

LPBOA criticize the Police

The Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association while acknowledging that offences were committed by them on roads, explained that the Police would see this move as a revenue earning exercise and use the increase in the fines as a means of making an income.

President of the Association, Gemunu Wijeratne said that while the fines at present should prevail for the most part and be applicable, they were not averse to the increase of fines for crimes such as driving under the influence of liquor, driving without the license and registration, permitting driving sans the license and registration and speeding (current fine is Rs 1,000) which kills. He added that the dangerous practice of cutting the single or double white line too should fall into the aforementioned category.

Wijeratne also bemoaned the lack of experts in the Ministry of Transport which adversely impacted the formulation of budgetary proposals with regard to transportation saying that it was a serious issue.

“The budgetary allocation for transport too came under fire as being less,” said Wijeratne who added that for the country to be developed, transportation should be prioritized in the same manner as health and education.

According to him, there would be one lane for use by buses in the Western Province (in places like Battaramulla) under the Ministry of Megapolis.

“Accidents must be reduced. The Ministry of Transport and especially the Police must be involved in these discussions. The Rs 2,500 fine must be halted. Fines must be affordable. It is Ministers, MPs and politicians who abuse road laws and rules,” he further explained.

Fines should be in accordance with income level – Motorcyclists

The Ceylon Motorcyclists’ Association has sent two letters to President Maithripala Sirisena, one voicing their opposition to the said increase and the other requesting that fines be charged on the basis of the income level which in turn should be based on the class of the vehicle.

The Association is scheduled to conduct a black band protest during the weekend (not confirmed yet) in front of the new house of the Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake which is currently under construction and is being extended.

Secretary of the Association, Chirantha Amarasinghe said that at present even though there was no way of classifying people into classes on the basis of their economic level, vehicles including motorcycles and cars were classified, with categories including normal, luxury and super luxury.

If the vehicle is under 100 cubic centimeters (cc) then only 30% of Rs 2,500 should be charged, which would amount to Rs 750. A normal motorbike should be charged 50% of Rs 2,500, which would amount to Rs 1,250. With cars, if it is a super luxury vehicle, 400% should be charged, which would amount to Rs 10,000.

“A motorcycle below 100cc is owned by a small household and Rs 2,500 is spent for a month on fuel. It is thus unfair to charge the driver of the said vehicle the amount that he spends a month on fuel for one violation. It is not just motorcyclists who commit offences. The purpose of a punishment is to make the offender feel an economic pinch. It must be so. Yet, it must be practical. To establish discipline one must create fear of the law. This must be fair to all. President Sirisena must see to it. While the masses are being asked to tighten their belts, politicians cannot live luxuriously and enjoy,” he explained.

Fines should be increased in line with value of vehicle – CG Motor Traffic

Commissioner General of Motor Traffic, A.H.K. Jagath Chandrasiri explained that the minimum rate of fines should ideally be increased more similarly in keeping with the rise in vehicle prices and the value of vehicles.