Sri Lanka gets tough with drivers as road deaths hit record high

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Sunday vowed to get tough with errant motorists as the number of road deaths hit a record high last year with over 2,800 killed, mostly due to reckless driving.

Minister Ravi Karunanayake said the government will not waver in its commitment to make Sri Lankan roads safer by instilling a greater sense of discipline and respect for traffic rules by slapping high fines for offenders.

"Over 90 per cent of the proposals received by the finance ministry in preparation of the budget called for discipline in all areas with strict adherence to the laws of the country," the minister said in a statement.

Responding to a demand by private bus operators to abolish the proposed minimum traffic fine of 2,500 rupees, Minister Karunanayake said that the move was aimed at saving thousands of lives of motorists as well as pedestrians.

"Why are the private bus operators so much against the law" asked the minister. He noted that a section of bus operators making such a demand amounted to a tacit admission that they are  frequent offenders.

He made it clear that he will not reduce the fines, while his officials said he may consider further increasing the fines to ensure a healthy deterrent.

According to police reports, so far this year, nearly 3,000 people have been killed in traffic accidents making Sri Lankan roads among the most dangerous in the world.

"This is a dubious honour that we must shed. This also surpassed the number of people killed annually in the decades-long separatist war," the minister said.

"The motive of those who oppose the fines appears to be that they want the government to give them a free license to kill at will and get away with highway murder."

In the first nine months of this year, a total of 2,202 people were killed in 2,085 road accidents. Police statistics show that the country is on its way to record about 70,000 accidents for this year.

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The statistics point to an alarming increase in the number of serious accidents reported to police along with the number of people who suffer grievous injuries in addition to the high number of deaths.

A total of 2,817 people were killed in road accidents last year making it the highest on record.

Government hospitals have also been treating tens of thousands of road accident victims at a huge cost to the tax payers.

During the extensive consultations the finance ministry officials had with the public before finalizing the budget, a recurring demand was for the government to take bold measures to tackle indiscipline on the roads, he added.

All sections of society were united in calling for tougher penalties so that law abiding motorists and innocent pedestrians did not have to suffer at the hands of reckless and irresponsible drivers.

The minister noted that traffic fines proposed in the budget  were not a revenue measure, but designed to be a deterrent to ensure that there will be no repetition of offences and there would be an improvement in the safety record of the roads.

Therefore, the private bus drivers, or for that matter any other motorist, need not fear the new fines as long as they obey the rules and only those who habitually violate traffic rules will have to pay the fines.

Police have also reported that traffic congestion was compounded by undisciplined driving and inconsiderate behaviour  of some motorists.

(COLOMBO, Nov 13, 2016)

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