Reckless driving, drug use, bad road designs cause accidents in Kerala: Officials, politicians

Photo: ES Akhil/ Mathrubhumi

Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi: Poor enforcement of traffic rules, reckless driving, use of narcotics and liquor, potholes and poor designs of the roads are causing thousands of vehicular accidents in Kerala, according to government officials and politicians.

A stark indicator of this was the October 5 accident that occurred at Vadakkencherry in Palakkad district of the state and claimed nine lives, including five school children, when an over-speeding tourist bus rammed into a KSRTC bus from behind.

The mishap prompted the Kerala High Court to intervene with directions to prevent the recurrence of the same and also remark that if the issue of reckless driving and poor enforcement of rules were not addressed, it could turn Kerala roads into "killing fields".

The accident and resultant loss of lives also triggered a state-wide discussion on the causes of such mishaps, including the use of intoxicating substances, and measures to prevent the same.

A senior IPS officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said there have been instances of accidents due to the use of drugs and alcohol and recognising this problem, police have taken various preventive measures, like the launch of the 'Alco Scan Van', to check for driving under the influence of intoxicating substances.

"During COVID-19 there was a lull in enforcement which picked up post-pandemic and it can be seen in the manifold increase in drunk driving cases. Drug use was not a concern five years ago, but it's more common now. So there has been a conscious effort on our part to prevent accidents due to use of intoxicating substances and for that, the 'Alco Scan Van' was launched a couple of months ago.

"It carries out random checks for alcohol and drug use. Many more such units would be rolled out as a preventive measure. Post accidents checking is already being conducted," the officer told PTI.

The accident, which occurred when the children were on a school excursion to Ooty, also prompted the Kerala High Court and the State Transport Department to issue a slew of directions for regulating stage carriage operations.

While the High Court directed that buses with unauthorised laser lights, music systems, horns and not conforming to the uniform colour code should not ply on the state roads, the Transport department doubled the fine for illegal modifications on private buses and also saddled RTO officials with responsibility for violations to prevent recurrence of such a mishap.

Kerala Road Transport Minister Antony Raju told reporters that it has been decided to double the fine from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 for making unauthorised modifications on buses and cancel their Certificates of Fitness (CFs).

"The fines would be levied for each of the modifications made on a vehicle and the more the number of unauthorised or illegal changes, the higher would be the total fine," he said.

The minister also said that these measures would be implemented without fail in a time-bound manner and declined to provide any relaxation or exemption or time to private stage carriages, when their owners approached him, to comply with the same.

State Transport Commissioner S Sreejith said repeated violations of traffic and motor vehicle norms would now invite stringent action like cancellation of CFs and suspension of driving licenses where earlier violators were let off with a fine.

"Repeated violations are being looked into seriously and tampering with speed governors would be considered as a safety hazard on the road and therefore, their CFs are liable to be cancelled and driving licenses of the drivers would also be suspended," he told PTI.

This is of significance as the tourist bus involved in the Palakkad accident had been blacklisted for violating safety standards and had raked up around 14 speeding violations prior to the mishap despite having a speed governor.

A senior State Transport department official, while speaking to PTI, said that this was due to the reason that tampering with the speed governor only had a fine under the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules.

According to the Kerala Police, there were 28,876 road accidents in the state up to August this year and these mishaps claimed 2,838 lives and resulted in injuries to 32,314 persons.

Several of these accidents are due to people, especially youngsters, driving or riding under the influence of drugs or liquor, according to officers of various traffic police stations in the state.

"Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they do not realise how fast they are going. In one such incident, a private bus driver, under the influence of drugs, rammed the vehicle into a KSRTC bus leading to the death of one person," a traffic police officer from Palakkad district said.

However, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who walked through Kerala as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, believes people of the state are good and responsible drivers and it was the bad road designs which caused accidents.

"There is something very wrong with the design of your roads. Hidden in all these bad designs are a lot of tragedies," he had said and suggested that everyone sit together and work out a better design for the roads.

The Kerala High Court, on the other hand, has an entirely different view of the driving skills of people in the state.

A single judge of the high court said that the "deleterious element of reckless driving" needs to be addressed to prevent the roads from turning into "killing fields".

Justice Devan Ramachandran said, "Drivers use vehicles and occupy road spaces as if they have the carte blanche to do as they please and this is because there is a complete lack of respect and fear for the law...The roads in Kerala certainly will become killing fields, if this is allowed to go on".


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