Plus - Letters to the editor

Fine lines, double standards: Road safety rules on the wrong track

I read your news item on this subject with great interest, being myself a frequent road user.
There is a great deal of police activity on the roads. They are particularly severe on drivers who cross white lines -- single or double.

It is my understanding that the Roads Authority draws the lines and the Police levy the fines. If you see freshly painted white lines, watch out. Their purpose is more related to the policeman hiding around the corner than to road safety. I call them “Fine Lines”.

I am all for road safety and applaud the efforts of the police to restore discipline on our roads. The police in Colombo do a good job, and I like their white sleeves which are far more visible than the brown uniform sleeves. Generally, the traffic is more organized, and the increasing use of traffic lights is to be commended.

However, on the question of white lines, there needs to be an injection of some commonsense. Recently I drove on the Peradeniya-Nuwara Eliya road. A good 50% of the road is in single or double white lines. Even open bends, where oncoming traffic is clearly visible have been lined.

The interests of safety are not enhanced by road lines which make it impossible to drive at a sensible speed. All the motorists on this stretch of road were treating the white lines as if they did not exist. Senseless restrictions breed contempt. The only person who is worse than the engineer who draws the lines thoughtlessly is the police officer who fines the hapless motorist for crossing them when he overtakes a lorry travelling at walking speed.

On steep sections of the road white lines are drawn with a gay abandon that would warm the heart of a paint manufacturer. Overloaded lorries, three wheelers, and large container trucks crawl on these climbs. This means that cars have to also crawl behind, or take a chance and make a break for it. Many do, and pay the price for the police find easy pickings on these sections of road.

It should self-evident that the safest time to overtake a vehicle is when it is travelling slowly, or in other words, climbing. It would be sensible to implement the dual line, one broken and one solid, to allow overtaking on one lane only and on an ascent this should be the lane that is ascending. This approach is seen on some roads down south near Matara, and on the Katugastota-Kurunegala road. This is eminently sensible and would allow a fair chance for drivers to overtake slow vehicles safely.

In heaven’s name, let us encourage sensible driving and not frustrate motorists with senseless restrictions which only breed contempt for road rules. Driving at a reasonable speed is not a crime and is a requirement for a modern society and our road rules should take account of the fact that travelling on our highways are “vehicles” as diverse as handcarts, bullock carts, three wheelers, overloaded lorries and semi-trailers and of course fast motor cars, whose drivers have the expectation of travelling at a reasonable speed on a highway. Indeed, a modern society demands that one can complete a journey in a time appropriate to the 21st century, but the effect of ill-advised white lines is to slow down everyone to the “slowest common denominator.”

On my journeys I see increasing numbers of cars, lorries and motorcycles being pulled over by the police for technical infringements. However in my experience, the drivers who show the greatest disregard for road rules, the bus drivers, seem to never get caught in the net. The last time I saw a bus detained was about six months ago. Is there a double standard?

Speed limits should be reviewed and revised. There are some excellent sections of road where a safe speed limit would be a 100 kmph, instead of the existing 70 kmph. For example, on the stretch from Habarana to Kantalai the road is good and there is little traffic. Yet we see the police hiding behind bushes with their speed guns enforcing a speed limit which bears no relationship to road safety. To drive at 70 kmph on this road requires almost superhuman concentration and restraint. What is the point of it all? It is far better to concentrate on those areas where speed would be dangerous. However, easy pickings are irresistible, and no doubt quotas of fines have to be achieved.

Parking opposite double or single white lines does not seem to rate a mention in the points system. Bus drivers are notorious for parking anywhere they wish, lines or no lines. Does the car driver have to wait until the bus moves on, or does he break the line rule? On the Kundasale road there is the ridiculous situation of two bus stops opposite double lines. These are flanked by two straight stretches of road each about a quarter mile long, marked with double lines. This appears to be a blatant fine collecting device and has nothing to do with road safety.

At rush hours it is not unusual for a bus to stop every 50-100 yards to pick up a passenger. I frequently see two buses parked opposite each other at a busy town, bringing all traffic to a standstill. The police seem to be blind to such disregard for other road users.

A common and extremely dangerous practice is parking on the “wrong” side of the road. This violates the requirement that drivers keep to the left or pavement side of the road. A vehicle parked on the wrong side of the road has been driven on the wrong side to get there, and can only leave its position by the driver driving away on the wrong side. Why do police not penalise this dangerous practice?

All reasonable motorists should welcome any moves that will help to instill discipline on the roads, but it appears to me that the police are only focused on cars that break the speed limit or cross white lines. The myriad other offences seem to go unnoticed. How many buses have stop lights and indicators that work or can sound horns that would put a ship’s siren to shame? How many push cycles are ridden at night with no lights or rear reflectors? Answer: 99.9 %. How many motorists treat pedestrians on crossing with complete disregard? How many motorists observe roundabout rules? Indeed, most roundabouts do not have signs denoting that roundabout rules apply.

Finally, the penalty for using mobile phones, hand held or otherwise should be much more severe. A person on a mobile phone has his mind on the phone call and not on the road. A mere four point penalty is totally inadequate. Not so long ago I lost a friend who collided with a vehicle whose driver was on a mobile phone.

Tony Whitham Via email

Geneva: Saving the country's image and unnecessary spending

We have been harangued by various views on the Geneva debacle. These views, death fasts and demonstrations orchestrated by the government notwithstanding, the question that arises is whether some member-states at the United Nations Human Rights Council voted against the resolution because of their opposition to the United States.

A recent news item said that Russia wanted the LLRC report implemented. Its stance is largely in agreement with the UNHRC resolution. Does this mean that it voted for Sri Lanka merely to show its antagonism towards United States?

In view of Russia's stance, was it not a waste of money to go globe trotting to canvass support and throw lavish parties and dinners at expensive resorts and also take a retinue of more than 50 delegates to Geneva?

Finally, if the Geneva resolution was to compel Sri Lanka to implement the LLRC report, why couldn't the government inform the UN much earlier before the resolution was to be placed before the UNHRC that action is being taken to implement the LLRC report in stages and if necessary, a progress report could be furnished as it progresses. That would have protected Sri Lanka's image and saved the country unnecessary expenditure.

Sona Weerakoon Bandara, Suduhumpola

No problems with Pali stanzas

In his letter published in the Sunday Times of April 1, Dr. D. Malwatte Mohotti attributes the reason for the breakdown in religious discipline and values, to the translation of all Sinhala scriptures into Pali during the reign of King Maha Naga as people today do not understand their meaning. The translations were done by Venerable Buddha Gosha Thera.

Why had the King given such instructions? As a Buddhist who regularly makes use of Pali stanzas for protection and wellbeing, the results received by me are satisfactory - as I have read books which translated these stanzas giving their meaning in Sinhala. A few of the stanzas I have been repeating almost daily are - "Karaneiya Matta, Jala Nandana and Sabba pappassa Akaranan.

It will be interesting to obtain the views of others who continue to use Pali stanzas in their daily prayers.

Jeoffrey Gunasekera, Colombo

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