I am an IT professional working for a private firm. I have a heavy vehicle (Class A) driving licence, and I have been driving for the past 10 years. Touch wood, I have had no accidents so far. I follow the traffic rules and regulations to the letter and I am very much concerned about road ethics.
With all these plus points as a respectable, law-abiding road user, I keep having problems with the traffic police. Like most drivers in Sri Lanka, professional or not, I cannot understand the minds of our traffic police, who are easily the most objectionable law enforcers in the country.
In fact, I cannot recall a single instance in my entire life that prompts me to say anything good about the Sri Lanka Police.
I was recently taking my pregnant wife to the doctor’s. I was driving from Boralesgamuwa towards Kohuwala. A traffic cop signalled me to stop in front of the Boralesgamuwa Police Station. He asked for my driving licence. I asked him what offence I had committed. He said I had ignored his command (“Ana nothaka davanaya kirima”). I was puzzled. I said I stopped my vehicle as soon as he made a sign for me to stop. The policeman looked sullen and did not listen to a word I said.
The next day I took leave to go to the police station, pick up a fine payment form and go to the post office to pay the fine. When I returned to the police station, I was told that my driving licence could not be found. Someone had misplaced it. Could I come later? It was a whole day wasted.
I had a similar experience a couple of months ago when I was riding my motorcycle along R. A. de Mel Mawatha, going in the direction of Pamankade. Just as I was passing the Dickman’s Road junction, the traffic lights on the second light post turned yellow. I moved forward alongside a line of cars driving on the left.
A traffic cop signalled for a car to stop. I was not sure whether he was signalling to me, as I was driving on the left side. I stopped. All the cars disappeared. I went up to the cop. He had already done most of the paperwork and was waiting to see my driving licence. I tried to explain that if I had stopped for the second yellow light, I would have had to stop in the middle of the junction. I was fined nevertheless.
The same thing happened to me near the Police Park signal lights. With no time indicators, it is difficult to judge the time-out for traffic lights. The yellow signal comes on when vehicles are already in motion. By positioning themselves near signal posts with no time indicators, traffic cops give themselves a perfect vantage point to impose fines.
Recently, we were heading to Galle for a family picnic. I am familiar with the road signs on this long stretch, and equally familiar with stories of fatal accidents on the Galle Road.
Rather than try to overtake a bus in front of me, I kept a safe distance behind it. The bus was travelling rather slowly. Near Kosgoda, when the road straightened out, I took my chance to overtake the bus, which was about to stop at a bus halt. The road was very clear. The cops stepped forward, stopped me, and fined me.
I understand that traffic policemen have a daily fines target and that they have to impose a minimum number of fines each day. If this is true, then the traffic police are officially cheating the public. It is an open secret that most drivers get out of the problem by bribing the cops.
The Police Department is fast losing its credibility, if it hasn’t lost it already.
I work at a private commercial bank which holds regular seminars and workshops to train staff to be duty-oriented and serve customers in the best possible way.
It would be interesting to know what kind of training our police personnel get in dealing with the public.
Most police officers come across as unprofessional, uneducated, untrained and unfit to wear a police uniform. They seem to forget that they are paid by the tax payers. The front pages of the newspapers are splashed with stories of the police harassing the public.
Some people must wonder whether the country wouldn’t be better off without the Police.