Political violence naturally disturbs us and the media are full of reports of threats and actual incidents of such atrocities. We are not short of people to take them up and stage protests. But, sadly, we have turned a blind eye to the danger posed by an insidious killer on the prowl preying as it does on innocent men, women and children almost daily.
Drunk driving is the name of this monster at large. Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told Parliament on Friday, as we reported on Saturday, that drunkards behind the wheel had snuffed out 79 lives during the first nine months of last year. He revealed that 436 people had perished and 1,060 others had suffered either injury or disability at the hands of speed fiends during that period. This is ample proof of the danger that stalks our roads.
At this rate, the day may not be far off when nobody is safe on roads, though terrorism has been effectively neutralised and the country is free from bomb blasts and other forms of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, very little is being done to battle the highway terror and save the hapless public.
Opposition MP Dayasiri Jayasekera sought to tease Minister Gunawardena in Parliament on Friday by questioning the efficacy of the government`s much flaunted Mathata Thitha programme aimed at creating a sober Sri Lanka. He demanded to know how there could be an increase in drunk-driving related deaths while the government was boasting of the success of Mathata Thitha.
One may not approve of Dayasiri s sarcastic tone, but the government ought to take criticism of its pet programme in good spirit, for he raised a pertinent question. In spite of Mathata Thitha, the government has failed to ban liquor at State functions. Even in liberal countries like Sweden, no liquor is served at the expense of tax payers. In a land like ours where many infants go to sleep on empty stomachs for want of a gulp of milk, no public funds must be expended to wet anyone`s whistle.
As for the asphalt cowboys who, as drunk as skunks, unleash hell on public roads, stern action is called for. They are not only a grave threat to society but also a massive burden on the public purse in that the State has to spend millions of rupees annually to treat their victims. They are murderers in all but name and must be treated as such. Fines for drunk driving must be replaced with imprisonment and the licences of drunkards who cause loss of life cancelled. Leniency amounts to connivance.
Some private bus drivers are said to be addicted to narcotics as evident from their recklessness and callous disregard for others lives and property. Those high on drugs behind the wheel and pose a danger to other road users are difficult to detect unlike those who smell of firewater and that is believed to be the reason why some heavy vehicle drivers prefer kudu or ganja to arrack or kasippu. The police should conduct random checks on places where bus crews congregate and nab the errant as part of the Mathata Thitha programme.
Now that the police have been relieved of their anti-terror operations, they could be deployed to crack down on road hogs et al that endanger others` lives and property. Should there be any need for new laws to deal with them, let the new Parliament to be elected shortly consider it a national priority to address the issue of highway terrorism and legislate for the menace to be tackled effectively. Reducing precious lives to cold statistics to be read out in the House is not the way to set about the task.