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Three-wheelers: A private company’s fortune and society’s cost


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The present policymakers in the country have realised the social costs associated with three-wheelers, and are attempting to curb the importation and the undesirable effects of three-wheelers. In this context, one should spare a moment to reflect on how these three-wheelers have caused a decline in our society.

It is needless to say that three-wheelers have an abysmal road safety record. Yet, somehow, these three-wheelers were brought into the country in large scale and sold without any safety warnings. The statistics on human fatalities and injuries in road accidents involving three-wheelers, would have rendered sever restrictions on three-wheelers in any other country, if not the complete ban of these death traps. 

It is not only for the road accidents and the menacing driving that the three-wheelers leave a legacy behind; three wheelers are closely associated with many of the vices prevalent in society today. Rather than as a mode of transport, three-wheelers have become infamous as the modus operandi of various criminal activities, such as underworld heists, drug trafficking and prostitution.

Moreover, three-wheelers are responsible for creating a ‘lost generation’ for Sri Lanka. Generations of youth have opted to drive a three wheeler, rather than enter the labour force. This situation has created many socio-economic problems. While the productive contributions of these youth have been lost to the economy, the youth themselves have fallen by the wayside and some even reduced to a life of crime.

The current policy makers have realised these issues and have implemented certain policies aimed at reducing road accidents and to curb the importation of three-wheelers to address the other social concerns. One of such praiseworthy policies is the introduction of lesser speed limits for three-wheelers, given that three-wheelers are not capable of handling or withstanding high speeds like other motor vehicles. However, the authorities have fallen short by not imposing a complete ban of three-wheelers on roads outside the city limits, as the speed of other vehicles on these roads is relevant factor in a collision.

Although three-wheelers have caused a decline in society in the manner described above, the private company that is bringing down these three-wheelers has amassed an unimaginable wealth. This private company, which bears a family name, until recently enjoyed a monopoly status in the three-wheeler market and still is the largest importer and distributor of three wheelers. It is said that the profits earned by this private company even surpass the profits of some of the largest conglomerates in the country. However, because it is a private company, little information is available in the public domain on its financial status. The wealth amassed by this private company has been channelled now into more mainstream businesses, including financial services. This begs the very pertinent question; has this private company ever been made to internalise any of the above social costs associated with three-wheelers? Whereas, every motorist taking out an insurance policy is required by law to contribute a certain percentage of the insurance premium to the Road Safety fund, which is a fund set up to compensate the victims of road accidents. It appears that the authorities have conveniently omitted the direct source of these social costs and as per usual practice taxed the public at large! Given the number of road accidents involving three-wheelers one could argument the creation of separate fund entirely from the contributions of this private company to compensate the victims of such accidents. It is high time that the authorities take notice of this situation and not allow this private company to walk away with a fortune made at society’s expense. The present Government imposed several one-off taxes on errant businesses to sanction their behaviour and perhaps a similar approach should be adopted with regard to this private company, along with other long-term policy measures to reduce the number of three-wheelers on the roads.  

M. Perera


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