With over one million, are they three-wheelers or wheels of death?

Wednesday, 11 September 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 The number one killer in road mishaps are three-wheelers related accidents, which top the ‘death by accident’ list – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

By Dyan Seneviratne

These ubiquitous contraptions, aka three-wheelers or ‘trishaws’ are not designed in any way to speed and/or withstand impact of any significance – those within die or are maimed for life in each high speed accident, being reported with sickening regularity. 

Now that the war is over, the number one killer in road mishaps are three-wheelers related accidents, which top the ‘death by accident’ list. All invaluable, vibrant lives of humans: rich, poor, brilliant academics, doctors, housewives, school kids – our citizens, just snuffed out! Is this carnage to continue unabated? Is anyone out there concerned?

What needs to be done to curb the trishaw menace?

At least until a cheap, far safer mode of efficient transport is offered as an alternative to the ‘trishaw’, let them be: 

[1] Banned from using certain identified major highways; 

[2] No over-crowding – not more than three adults or four children could be taken as passengers at a time; 

[3] They cannot exceed 30 km/hr; 

[4] They cannot run on fast lane and use fly-over bridges;

[5] Trishaw drivers should never be permitted to remove handle bar bolts that prevent a 360-degree turn – most have done this modification – that explains how they could ‘do an U’ in middle of Galle road, defying laws of physics, at times! 

[6] And yes, ban them from entering High Security Zones too. 

Costly full-paged ads on behalf of trishaws [who is fooling whom?]

Instead of wasting money [these trishaw importers have money to burn by the billions literally] by singing praises or ‘virtues’ of trishaws as ‘cheapest form of transport, most people carried,’ etc., why don’t these rich ‘agents’ as an extension of their CSR initiate a campaign of intensive training of these three-wheelers drivers, by even financing/securing their ‘driving license’ by usual RMV tests on both theory/knowledge of highway-code, improving their skill/knowledge/attitude/discipline and of course practical sessions as:

[a] It is claimed that 400,000 trishaw drivers do not have a genuine driver’s license!

[b] Most traffic fatalities in Sri Lanka involve trishaws caught up in accidents.

[c] The trishaws plying in SL are perhaps the most dangerous vehicles in the world as they are designed sans any safety features to withstand impact of any significance. That’s why passengers/drivers of trishaws are usually crushed to death instantaneously when hit by another vehicle traveling even at a slow 40-50 km/hr.

[d] Most traffic snarls are compounded by slow-moving trishaws that occupy the centre of the road, refusing to budge or give way to faster moving traffic; habit of knocking off their trishaw engines when they stop at ‘traffic lights’ and attempting to crank-up their engines after the lights turn to green. Many times their engines stall adding to jams!

[e] Any available space at top of a lane leading to a main road, ‘real-estate’ near busy bus-halts, supermarkets, places of worship, schools etc suddenly become property of these trishaw mafia – they create their own ‘trishaw parking area’ – without authority of course. And woe unto any driver of say, a car who attempts to park in such ‘cleared areas’. You would get a good mouthful of the choicest obscenities and told to ‘get away’ ASAP before they assault you like the manner they thrash others seemingly ‘for nothing’!

[f] Trishaws moving about at 15 km/hr amidst traffic that moves at 80 km/hr in our few fast-moving ‘highways’ means trouble big-time for these three-wheelers – they must be banned from ‘highways associated with fast traffic’ for their own safety! Yet who cares?

[g] That most traffic offenders are trishaw drivers – but strangely hardly booked!

Their list of unacceptable ‘antics’ is legion, yet space precludes me from listing more!

If the trishaw menace is not controlled/regulated, very soon Sri Lanka would be known as the three-wheeler paradise of the world, hogging and clogging our roads whilst holding all other law abiding drivers to ransom or a living-hell for all other motorists!


Have proper regulations: All trishaws drivers must be re-registered ASAP. In backdrop of more than a million three-wheelers registered, authorities are now understandably concerned at the veritable ‘social bomb’ that could be exploited by cunning political manipulators for their evil political aims. We need to address these potential issues pragmatically, yet with a firm hand - not pussyfooting for expediency!

[1] When drafting census returns for ‘trishaws,’ data sought should include status of owner/driver/profession/occupation/permanent residence/what other skills are possessed [apart from driving a three-wheeler] basic education/sports prowess, etc. 

[2] With above information one could deduce how many otherwise skilled persons such as plumbers/mechanics/electricians/carpenters/welders, etc., are available within a group now loosely termed, albeit derogatorily [unfairly] as ‘trishaw drivers’.

[3] Ascertain whether these ‘trishaw drivers’ also ply their skilled trades whilst driving three-wheelers to earn a fast buck in between professional assignments and also use their trishaw as their own family vehicle – this group can be identified as not a major threat to security/social bomb, etc., as they are generally industrious. They should be treated with respect/re-train road driving skills; appropriate identity tag issued including uniform [get private corporate entities to fund such initiatives as a CRS initiative] so that society in turn would recognise them as those who help society as a disciplined group of competent drivers who augment our transport needs [instead of ‘painting all trishaw drivers with one brush as basically anti-social hooligans as is the general perception!]

[4] Conversely those that are or potentially up to mischief/petty/serious crimes are those without any skills mentioned above apart from only driving trishaws! Invariably this later group could be school dropouts/school leavers sans any job related skills who waste their time at tops of lanes/junctions for hours on end literally doing nothing until they get a hire. Using the apt adage ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,’ these mostly young men should be disciplined/monitored/their NIC/DL checked, etc., often.

[5] As the above ‘vulnerable group’ could be swayed into radical/criminal/anti-social behaviour, we need to identify each such group/s in each town/city instead of looking at an unwieldy district/provincial basis. This group needs to be rehabilitated ASAP. 

[6] We need to urgently identify the above group and slot at least a day or two each week for training them the whole gamut of ‘responsible living’; how to look after their health – physically and emotionally – and then with noticeable positive changes in their demeanour, move them towards training them with job-related technical skills using the NVQ concepts. 

They need to be compensated while they are ‘off hires’ when being trained in different trades/skills/aimed at enhancing HR capital of this despised group. 

[7] Gradually when they feel that society/State/relevant authorities care for them with deeds we could guide and mould them towards being a vital human resource instead of permitting them to go wild and end up as drug addicts and anti-social criminals! 

[8] There is a huge demand for workers with required skills, knowledge/attitudes in the burgeoning tourism and construction industries but sadly we do not have those mostly youth with the requisite attributes, forcing corporate entities to source workers with the desired traits from disparate locations such as from Kerala [India] and Bangladesh.

[9] We need to urgently re-orient our basic education towards being pragmatically job-oriented; even create more relevant technical institutes rather than more universities.

[10] The less said about our troubled universities the better! After all during the 1950s our Peradeniya University was, I am told, amongst the best 20 universities in the world – today it cannot find a slot even amongst the best 20,000 universities!

[11] If our beloved Sri Lanka is to move to the next league accursed political expediency should be replaced with discipline and practical ways and means to create a paradigm shift from present quagmire of producing masses of youth – mostly fit for nothing!  

Stem the rot

Reverting to the present trishaw worsening issues, stem the rot by:

[1] Checking on the veracity/genuineness of their Driving License [DL]

[2] Once it is confirmed their DL is genuine they should be given a permit that should indicate – name, certified photo, NIC, DL number, area permitted to operate – copies of such documents must be displayed within trishaw.

[3] Each year each trishaw must be checked for mechanical condition and road worthiness – this certificate also be made available on request at any time.

[4] Prohibit trishaws from doing U-turns on main roads

[5] Only trishaws with properly functioning meters should be allowed to ply as taxis 

[6] All trishaws to run only on slow lane; no overtaking law to be strictly enforced

[7] All supermarkets and such places where parking for cars are ‘tight,’ trishaws should be made to park only in specific demarcated parking slots and not wherever they wish! 

[8] Last but not least, trishaws to operate only from properly demarcated/allocated trishaw stands; they cannot be hailed here, there and everywhere when they stop invariably almost in middle of road to pick up passengers, obstructing traffic! 

Discipline is the need of the hour for these trishaw drivers. 

If trishaws are a necessary evil, permit them with relevant conditions.