Sri Lanka police in unique move to tackle rising road fatalities
ECONOMYNEXT – After failing to implement basic lane discipline, Sri Lanka’s police has come up with a unique way to reduce fatal accidents – in future all passengers will be criminally prosecuted along with offending drivers.
The first test case is reported from Opanayake in the Ratnapura district where the passenger of an army jeep was arrested and remanded because his driver was involved in an accident that killed a five-year-old girl on February 18.
Where the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) traffic feared to tread, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera rushed to order the officer in charge of the Opanayake police to immediately arrest the passenger, an army major, and his driver.
According to witness statements, the only “crime” committed by the passenger was to use his phone while his driver was at the wheel when the crash occurred, but Gunasekera got him arrested under section 298 of the Penal Code (Causing death by negligence.).
Assistant Superintendent Gunasekera who went above the traffic DIG is now qualified for the 2016 innovation award for coming up with this unique scheme to prosecute passengers.
When asked if he had in fact ordered the arrest, Gunasekera told a local newspaper that he not only ordered the arrest, but asked the Opanayake OIC to record it in his note book. Such is the courage of a trail blazer.
Gunasekera could take his initiative to its logical conclusion by calling for the arrest of the army commander Krishantha Silva too as the registered owner of the vehicle that caused the fatal injury. There could be an army of politicians in jail given that many VVIP convoys are involved in many fatal accidents.
About 2,500 people die on Sri Lankan roads annually and the numbers are rising with the huge influx of vehicles in recent years. The deterrent effect of Gunasekera’s novel move should not be underestimated.
After all, he is also an attorney-at-law who only last month tried his hand at appearing for the police in what is turning out to be the worst police brutality case under the Sirisena administration. Inspector General N. K. Illangakoon bowed to public pressure and withdrew Gunasekera from the Embilipitiya case after his conduct was challenged by fellow lawyers, but he is still full of ideas.
Traffic cases could now be shifted to high courts or all traffic courts could also be co-opted to hear criminal traffic cases. Every passenger is now a potential suspect aiding and abetting murder under section 298 of the Penal Code.
The controversial private medical college at Malabe could consider turning its students into lawyers and this would be a win-win situation to end that controversy too. ASP Gunasekera is not only a lawyer, but a political trouble shooter.
In April 2005 marking a rare exception, police prosecuted a bus conductor in the fatal bus-train collision at Alawwa that led to the deaths of 37 and wounded 40.
In that case, the conductor was also held criminally responsible because he moved the rail barrier and egged the driver to move while a train approached the level crossing.
Being a lawyer in addition to being the police spokesman, Gunasekera must know what he is doing even though he has been brave to bypass the police chain of command, one can only hope his innovative idea pays dividends and he is not taken out of his post.
But unlike other cops, he can still have a practice at the traffic courts. (Colombo/Mar04/2016)
Jehan Perera - Executive Director National Peace Council