The video clip of a vehicle hitting a traffic signpost at high speed in Thimphu, and then flipping over twice before settling in a flower bed is currently viral on social media. The occupants of the accident escaped relatively unharmed. Fortunately, no one else was injured in the accident. It could have been much worse.
The cause of the accident: driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
It is ironic that the accident occurred in front of the police headquarters in Thimphu.
In spite of the police’s “zero tolerance” measure on the weekends, there is an impudence on display. People continue to tolerate drink or drunk driving and ignore the risks and potential consequences, both in terms of penalties and accidents.
In 2016, there were 2,470 registered cases of drink driving in the country. So far this year, there have already been 466 cases going by records provided by the Road Safety and Transport Authority. Last month, there were 137 violations related to drink driving which averages to around four violations a day.
In 2014, there were 160 accidents related to drink driving. This increased to 195 of 574 accidents in 2015, which was 34 percent of all accidents.
With vehicle and pedestrian traffic increasing, drink driving will only get more dangerous, not only to occupants of vehicles but pedestrians as well. Many lives could be destroyed or lost because of one single impaired driver.
We must get a message across that drink driving will not be tolerated.
The police chose to upload the video clip of the recent accident. The question is whether drivers will change their habits by seeing such footage. Some police agencies abroad have gone further and adopted controversial naming and shaming policies of drunk drivers. There are supporters and there are critics of such an approach. There are legal issues and there is also no clear evidence that such policies have been effective in deterring the drunk driver.
While we would not encourage the police to resort to such an extreme measure for now, however, we would like to see stronger penalties.
Going by the numbers, the current fine of Nu 1,750 is not enough of a deterrent. The fine has to be increased. However, only increasing the fine is not enough.
Those who are caught driving under the influence of controlled substances should also have their driving privileges suspended for a certain period and made to undergo counselling, perhaps also be made to raise awareness on the dangers of drink driving or aid the police during their “zero tolerance” days. Repeat offenders should be dealt with harshly and have their licenses permanently cancelled.
We would also like to see the police conduct more surprise checks. For instance, most drivers are now aware on which days and at which spots the traffic police will be stationed to conduct breathalyser checks, and therefore avoid these areas. The police need to be more dynamic in how they enforce the law and conduct random inspections throughout the week.
Lastly, the responsibility falls on us the public to drive responsibly and ensure our family and friends also do so, and prevent unnecessary death and destruction from occurring.