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The Supreme Court's Ban On Alcohol Sale Near Highways Will Not Stop Drunk Driving

There's more to it.

03/04/2017 1:38 PM IST | Updated 04/04/2017 5:52 PM IST
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If data could drive the fear of death into people's hearts, the law need not have taken such an extreme step.

According to the numbers available for 2015 from the National Crime Research Bureau, over-speeding caused 41% of road accident deaths that year, and reckless driving another 32%. Drunk-driving killed 2% people. Most of these fatalities took place on the national highways.

In the light of these statistics, the Supreme Court's order to ban sale of alcohol within 500 metres of a national or state highway from 1 April fits in like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. But is the sale of alcohol the root of all evil or is it the unregulated consumption of it?

READ: Supreme Court Liquor Ban Leaves Hotels And Restaurants In A Lurch

Depending on how you answer this question, the rationale behind the liquor ban, its implications and its effectiveness will have different meanings for you.

The loss of business for pubs and restaurant, the jobs that may be axed in the breweries or the hit on the revenues earned by the Centre from alcohol licensing are still being calculated, though the numbers are likely to be staggering.

Will all these losses add up to better road safety? While it may be too early to answer that question, it isn't too late to look at the ground realities more closely.

To begin with, the Supreme Court's order, which is the result of years of lobbying by the Centre, ostensibly in the interest of curbing drunk-driving accidents on highways, cannot be called judicial overreach. Rather, it comes from a concern for the greater common good, in sync with the aspirations of the government.

READ: Liquor Ban: States Ask Govt To Rename Highways As Urban Roads To Bypass SC's Order

The law seems to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between drinking and road safety. Restricting access to alcohol will curb inebriated driving, it argues, and therefore reduce chances of accidents.

Underlying this belief is the simplistic assumption that those who indulge in drunk or reckless driving will not find other means to continue doing so. Smuggling alcoholic beverages in bottles of aerated drinks is a common trick to fool the cops, until the perpetrators are stopped and made to go through a breathalyser test.

In India, failing a breathalyser test involves a fine of a few thousand rupees, failing which you may end up in jail for a couple of years. Or you may earn your reprieve by greasing the palm of an unscrupulous police officer. Dropping the name of a very important relation (it especially helps if the offender's father happens to be a certain somebody) may work like magic as well.

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In the rare instance of the law taking its course against a well-heeled personality for violating road safety rules, a case may take years to conclude. A popular movie star in this country had his colleagues fall over one another in his defence after he was accused in a hit-and-run case of killing a homeless person. Lesser mortals, who do not enjoy such solidarity, may still find ways of extricating themselves from trouble.

Unless stricter penalties are imposed for driving under the influence of alcohol, including the suspension of such drivers' licenses, accidents caused by such behaviour are unlikely to reduce significantly. The mindset of the society has to change fundamentally to reckon with road safety as an issue that affects everyone — not only the person behind the wheel, but also others in the car, and those out there, on the streets. Then, there are still others — family, friends and loved ones — who await their safe return.

So the next time you feel a couple of beers won't make any difference to your alertness behind the wheel, or road accidents don't happen to 'people like us', do yourself and everyone else a big favour: call a cab.

(With inputs from Rukmini S.)

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