Alcohol was never a major problem in Haryana and by and large people abstained from it. However, in the last couple of decades the problem has increased manifold and the impact can be seen in the changing social behaviour in society.
Sharp increase in drinking and driving
The problem has been that with increasing wealth more people are driving vehicles, along with a significant increase in commercial vehicles plying on roads. When this upsurge in traffic is further compounded with drivers who drink and drive, the road safety for everyone is severely at risk.
Under Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1998, any person drinking and driving or attempting to drive is liable to be charged for impaired driving. The laws are all laid out but the implementation has been very poor.
According to the Haryana Director General of Police (Traffic), there are around 4,000 deaths and 8,000 cases of injuries caused by road accidents, every year. One can safely assume that the percentage of accidents caused by drunken driving would be quite high.
The cases of drunk driving in Haryana is at two major levels; one is when drivers of cars drink and drive, while the other one is of truck drivers. In cases of drunken driving by car drivers, the trends are fairly noticeable. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, many drivers on the roads after 9 p.m. can be found to have consumed liquor. This is truer in areas like Gurgaon and Faridabad, where weekend partying and driving back under the influence of alcohol is common.
Unfortunately, the incidents of drinking and driving are growing amongst the younger generation and teenagers out partying over the weekend often end up in tragedies. The unfortunate part is that while the driver may be high on alcohol, many times the passengers in car are not, but end up as victims nevertheless.
Then there are the truck drivers who drink and drive. There are two categories here. Those that originate the truck journey from Haryana at night and those who drive through the state, again at night. In both cases, the results are usually fatal with serious consequences to those in the vehicles, as well as those that get caught up without directly colliding with the truck.
So why have incidents of drunken driving risen so sharply in Haryana?
There are several factors that have caused this problem to grow into a menace. First and foremost, the state government has to take responsibility for this rise. The state government in the last 10 years has allowed the number of authorised liquor vends to mushroom all over the state, especially on national and state highways. This along with the unauthorised liquor vends, have been the main trigger for drivers to access easy liquor and hit the road.
It is a matter of great shame that it has taken the Punjab & Haryana High Court to intervene and order the removal of liquor vends from the national and state highways. While the cases of drunken driving has been increasing in the state with people losing their limb and lives, the Hooda government has been busy issuing more liquor permits to authorised vendors and turning a blind eye to the unauthorised ones. The reason? Pure profits, both official and unofficial. Everyone down the chain is making money while people have been taking advantage of easy access and in turn taking liberties with their lives.
Isn't this abdication of state responsibility by the Hooda government? Would anyone care to visit the families of those who died in an accident that was caused by drunken driving? Would the Chief Minister like to face that family and explain why he chose to allow so many liquor outlets across the state?
While it is true that the state can't control an individual from consuming liquor and driving but the state can very well reduce the ease of access to liquor. That's an act that the Hooda government will always be guilty of.
The state negligence doesn't end there. Can the state government release figures as to how many traffic personnel are deployed each night to check drunken driving? Can the state also enlighten its citizens on how many Breath Analysers are deployed each night? And how many challans have been cut?
The answers will invariably show the state government in very poor light, especially when the cases of drunken driving is on the rise in the state. So why has the state government taken such a callous approach to the problem? Why has the state not taken corrective and preventive measures on a daily basis and on a war footing? Had this irresponsible Hooda administration unleashed a relentless campaign against drunk driving, the state would have seen a sharp decline in accidents that were caused by drunken driving.
In fact, the sheer pressure and presence of police on the roads would have prevented drivers from committing common violations like over speeding, overtaking and lane breaking, resulting in the overall cases of traffic violations coming down. But where is the Hooda administration seen on the roads at night? Nights pass on and people go on losing lives, each night.
Immediate steps needed to prevent / reduce cases of drunken driving in the state
The government must increase recruitment in the traffic department with special emphasis on adequate manpower to be deployed at night on all roads. Unless adequate personnel are deployed, the impact of police presence on road will not be felt.
The traffic department has to be well equipped with vehicles and communication systems that is hooked on to the regular police communication network. This will help when the offender tries to escape. Along with vehicles and communication systems, there is an urgent need for procuring adequate numbers of Breath Analysers.
Every check point must have these and the results must be connected to a live updating system so that there is a record of each offender along with his licence and vehicle details. This would help in maintaining a statewide record on serial offenders and also help in developing both policies and strategies for monitoring traffic.
This has to be accompanied by regular police to provide back up to the traffic department, as the people tend to view the traffic police as a benign force and take liberties on the road. This along with stiffer fines and sending offenders to jail will certainly help in getting the message across that the Haryana Traffic Police means business.
Once serious policing is done across most arterial roads and near popular pubs and bars of Haryana, the message will go out that the chances of being prosecuted for traffic violations will definitely result in heavy fines and possible jail sentences. It is this fear that will act as the biggest deterrent on the people and unless this is relentless, people will continue to take liberties.
Next, the state government has to run a consistent public interaction program at the community level, whereby they educate and seek people's cooperation in maintaining traffic discipline, including not driving under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, they must also conduct traffic awareness programs at the school and college level, so that the youth are made fully aware of the serious consequences of driving under the influence of liquor.
Time for people to wake up
10 years of Hooda administration has seen profit win over people's lives and now it is time for the people to take charge and do what must be done. It is now time to adopt a Nayi Soch and look forward to a Naya Haryana, where all citizens are safe on the roads. It's the least we deserve.