Fines, demerit points, lane discipline protocols, vehicle import bans. If it’s not already clear, the Government is fed up with all the traffic. And they have seemingly honed in on a series of measures that they hope will ease the stress of commuters across the island.
The one which has caught the most amount of public attention over recent days has been the enforcement of a lane discipline law, which was trialled this week and required trishaws, buses and motorbikes to solely utilise designated bus lanes (on the left side of the road). The move was unsurprisingly criticised by the Lanka Private Bus Owners Association (LPBOA), which pointed out that trishaws travelling at a maximum of 40km/h would slow down buses capable of travelling at 50-60 km/h – this despite buses rarely moving at faster than 40 km/h during traffic hours.
The LPBOA have resorted to their usual posturing and threatened strike action, so it remains to be seen for how long the lane discipline initiative will be in place, but for the time being Police have been instructed to dole out fines of Rs. 2,000 for motorists violating lane discipline.
The addition to this of a touted driver demerit point system at some point in the future, which would see driving licences automatically suspended once a set number of merit points are exhausted, is also a proactive move in line with countries such as Australia – where drivers self-police with extraordinary discipline. It is also hoped that the recently introduced ban on vehicle imports will further reduce the congestion on Lankan roads.
Though if similar initiatives in the past are to go by, the general aura of scepticism over the success of such directives is certainly not misplaced.
Back in 2017, similar lane discipline protocols were enforced only to be forgotten weeks later as Police simply stopped taking notice. While the desire to see the Police continually reprimand those blatantly disregarding road rules – not just at the start of a particular traffic initiative – is understandable, it must be noted that they can only observe so much; simply put, they need help.
This is where the Government comes in. Surely money can be spared for cameras to be installed at junctions and traffic lights. While this would not cover all areas, it would enable Traffic Police to identify unruly motorists more easily.
Police also need to be empowered to take action against bus drivers, who are among the biggest culprits when it comes to poor lane discipline. This is admittedly a much larger conversation for another day, but still needs urgent addressing, with the aforementioned threat of strike action only serving to highlight the ludicrous impunity with which bus drivers are allowed to operate,
Sans a revamp of the country’s ailing public transport system, a final suggestion would be the implementation of carpool lanes, which would greatly incentivise the use of less private vehicles on the road.
However as far as present initiatives go, while progressive they will only be successful if it is the start of a more vigilant Traffic Police force, one that is empowered to carry out their duties and will continue to do so in the long run.