Zero Tolerance Friday was introduced not to harass motorists but to make them more responsible drivers by restricting drink driving and to inculcate the habit of carrying up-to-date vehicle documents according to the officiating Superintendent of Police (SP), Traffic Division.
Zero Tolerance was introduced last year after motor mishaps showed an increasing trend. “Now with serious checking, people carry their documents and make sure to drive sober,” the SP said. “If they drink, they have someone sober with a valid license driving.”
For the police, he said, zero tolerance day is everyday but manpower constraints limited it to Friday, at the end of the work week, when people go out for fun and commit traffic offences.
The SP said the division faced numerous challenges to keep traffic safe and smooth. The first was growing congestion and the absence of proper signs or road marks that has led to allegations of harassment by motorists.
Allegations of harassment by motorists was another challenge because it was not their intention to willfully penalise motorists but to prevent them from taking any risks that were a safety hazard to themselves and others.
He also said dealing with drunk motorists, who charge traffic personnel from doing their duty was not an easy task. “Few even come out of the vehicle and bang the table asking for clarification,” the SP said.
On the subject of treating all motorists fairly, the SP said it is possible that personnel on duty might be light handed with friends and relatives but all personnel are briefed that the rules is the same for all.
When it came to senior citizens, high officials and retired civil servants personnel on duty do not apply the full procedure as a mark of respect, the SP said. “We don’t ask them to do the Alco blower test unless they look suspicious and we let them go with courtesy, but if found misbehaving we make sure to apply the same procedure for them as well.”
On traffic personnel and motorists compromising he said that it is usually not done but sometimes they have to.
“We directly can’t charge a person who is new to the rules and new to Thimphu. I think it is not fair enough to charge a person who just came from rural area as even the minimum amount, Nu.750 is a lot,” he said.
The other situation where a motorist is let off is for an emergency medical need.
On Zero Tolerance Friday, fines range from Nu 550 to Nu 2,500, for hit and run. On just one day in July 15, 2016, 303 Traffic Infringement Notices (from 20 dzongkhags) were issued for fines amounting to Nu 283,050 that goes directly to the government.
“We have nothing to do with the fine imposed because we issue them a TIN, collect their documents and then later on they need to pay the fine to the Road Safety and Transport Authority to get their documents. So we don’t have a way to misuse the fund,” the SP said.
While the RBP maybe carrying out its zero tolerance policy there are also complaints by some that it is equivalent to living in a police state being checked at every turn and corner.
Many also wonder if the drive is now more to increase government revenue and penalize people then actually increase road safety which is more complex than just carrying certain documents or not.
Tashi Dawa, a government employee said, “It is good that they are taking such an initiative, however, at times it is like being harassed by the COPs as they keep on checking in every nook and corner.”
“I had an experience whereby when I had to rush to town with some emergency. I left my license though I had a blue book with my photo pasted. Upon explaining the COP fail to cooperate and I had to pay fine. So in many ways I think they need to be more educated”, he said.
Another, 52 year old taxi driver said that, they don’t face difficulty during week days but on Friday they have to show their document a ‘thousand times’ to the same people.
He said, “When doing local from Babesa to Town it is sometime frustrating because in every stop we have to show the same document. They recognize us but I don’t know why they keep on checking and asking for document”.
A 27 years old Dechen Zangmo said that, “I think they are indirectly harassing people because even when they know that we didn’t drink they force us to blow the alcohol meter which is disgusting. And some police don’t even know how to talk, with them being rude and harsh “.
She also said that, they never give them a chance to explain what they have to say: instead they directly issue the TIN. So they (COPs) need to learn and know more before penalizing the motorist.