In other words, it will now be a crime if drivers are found drunk while driving.
Hundreds of accidents related to alcohol-impaired driving, some of them fatal, occur each year in the country, despite strict laws. The police in most big cities usually stop suspected drunk drivers at sobriety checkpoints to assess the level of alcohol intake and either make a spot fine or let them go with a rebuke or by accepting a bribe.
Some states use the existing law – a fine and imprisonment – sparringly while many others do not enforce it at all. But things might just change now.
Following recommendations of a Working Group on Enforcement, constituted by the National Road Safety Council, headed by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways P C Joshi, the Centre has now decided to give more teeth to the existing law by not just imposing a hefty fine on drunk drivers but also making a jail term compulsory.
Road Transport Secretary A K Upadhyaya said the increasing number of accidents and fatalities caused by drunken driving was forcing the government to resort to stricter implementation of the law.
According to the proposal, a flat fine of Rs 2,000 along with a six month jail term will be imposed on first-time offenders. If a person is caught driving drunk a second time, he will end up paying Rs 4,000 as fine and thrown into jail for over six months and up to three years.
Besides these measures, offenders’ driving licences will be suspended for a period ranging from six months to three years. The licence will be cancelled altogether if the drivers are found to have committed the offence repeatedly.
Although the existing law under Section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act has provisions for imprisonment and a monetary penalty, it is not enforced strictly. Drivers caught in an intoxicated state usually pay a fine –which may vary from city to city – and are then let off. Fines do lower the rate of accidents and drunken driving-related fatalities. But now, “to end the prevailing practice, the Centre wants to impress upon the judiciary that inebriated drivers should be jailed for at least six to 10 days for the first offence,” ministry sources said.
In Delhi, the law enforcement authorities have cracked down on drunken driving by using imprisonment as a deterrence. This has borne some positive results and, as Joint Commissioner (Traffic) Satyendra Garg, who is also a member on the Enforcement Committee, said, the number of cases of drunk driving has come down, though the step taken by the police has not erradicated the menace.
On its part, the ministry has started the process of preparing a database of driving licences, a measure which will help the authorities to track down second-time offenders and other traffic violations.