Drunk drivers in Chennai face imprisonment instead of fine

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Chennai:  It has been quite the bottled up provision in the law. Magistrates in Chennai have now started using the option in the Motor Vehicles Act to sentence those found guilty of drunken driving to simple imprisonment. This is instead of merely imposing a fine. In the last few weeks, 5 youngsters have been sent to jail for 15 days for driving after downing one too many.

Ironically, the State run liquor retail shops account for the government's highest revenue. Many of them are often accused of remaining open well past the 11 pm deadline.

Strangely enough, the government has recently allowed pubs in five star hotels in Chennai to be open round the clock on payment of an extra fee. This could push up the already steadily rising incidence of drunken driving. Consider the statistics. In 2010, the police booked 12,335 motorists for drunken driving. That number rose to 16,538 last year. In the last 6 months, there have been 9718 cases registered. More cases, the police insist, also mean stricter enforcement.

Sanjay Arora, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Chennai feels the jail terms "will be a deterrent but not in the long run. Society must realise that drunken driving is not good for them."

Youngsters in the city seem to be divided over what is being seen as a new form of judicial activism. Aasim Shehzad, partner at BFS Legal argues that "Paying a fine of a thousand or two thousand rupees is nothing. But if a person has to be in jail for 15 days or 6 months or more, he will not want to undergo that trauma."

But there are other party-goers who find the new measure more draconian than a deterrent. Like Aruna R.Krishnan, Editor of Ritz magazine, says, "The punishment should fit the crime. Locking someone up for drinking and driving is certainly a draconian step. Why can't they just confiscate or cancel their licences instead?"

Here's the catch: The statistics may not be a complete reflection of the magnitude of the menace. As drunken driving is an exception to an insurance claim, sources point out that often to help both the offender and the victim, some doctors don't certify drunkenness and the police stop short of registering a drunken driving case. But with the latest National Crime Records Bureau Report that puts the roads in Chennai as the most unsafe in India, accounting for the most fatal accidents, will stringent punishment like jail terms be a game changer?

 


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