A sign of the times?

Monday, 21 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Avurudu festivities symbolise many positive things but unfortunately during the last two weeks they seem to have done little more than prove how irresponsible people are when they consume liquor and take to the roads – with drastic results. At least 94 people were killed and 150 seriously hurt in road traffic accidents during the past nine days and Police attributed most of the tragedies to reckless and drunken driving. In addition, another 243 people suffered minor injuries and were discharged from hospitals after treatment. According to Police, 1,631 motorists were also booked for drunken driving during this same period and the bulk of them were motorcyclists numbering 900 followed by three-wheeler operators numbering 563.  Revealing shocking levels of irresponsibility 143 drivers were arrested while driving under the influence of liquor within 24 hours ending 6 a.m. on Saturday. Police said 86 motorcyclists and 37 three-wheeler drivers were among those arrested. Despite the fact that Police had publicly announced they would step up arrests of drunk drivers from 10 April, the warning seems to have been largely disregarded. It is astonishing that people continue to be so foolhardy and implementing an effective deterrent becomes all but impossible when consequences are so openly disregarded. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Health Ministry, about 80,000 road accidents occur in Sri Lanka annually and on average six to eight persons die per day from road accidents. The Government spends between Rs. 1 million to Rs. 10 million to treat a road accident victim and the annual budget exceeds Rs. 3.5 billion. A major road accident occurs in Sri Lanka every 10 minutes. Obeying road rules and promoting better discipline and courtesy can only be a plus point given the ever-increasing number of vehicles. Steps taken by the Government include the introduction of a point system for licenses so that accumulated offences are punished with the revoking of the privilege to drive. But it would seem that these efforts have largely been ignored and even Government steps to reduce the availability of alcohol through the 2005 ‘Mathata Thitha’ polices have clearly failed. A report released by Capital Alliance last month showed a spike in alcohol consumption since the end of the war. The total hard liquor consumption volume grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6% in the period up to 2012 while the volume is expected to peak to 93.1 million litres in 2015 with a CAGR of 2.6%, (slightly below the global average growth of 2.8%). As a result the country now ranks among the top boozing nations in the world when both recorded and unrecorded hard liquor consumptions are taken into account. Thus, in 2011 each Lankan is recorded to have consumed 11.2 litres of alcohol, below only to Czech Republic, France and Russia. At a time when public wellbeing is being challenged, drunk driving is only one aspect of a larger social malaise. Putting together laws that can better regulate production, sale and consumption of alcohol, finding resources to implement them and creating more awareness, especially in terms of educating youth and providing rehabilitation are the only sustainable solutions that will protect lives.