When did breaking a signal become such a serious crime?

Published: August 11, 2015
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A Pakistani traffic police officer holds a music player that was removed from a passenger bus in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistani commuters are stuck in a traffic jam in Karachi on June 3, 2014 following the arrest of Altaf Hussain, head of Pakistan's MQM party, in London. PHOTO: AFP A Pakistani traffic police officer holds a music player that was removed from a passenger bus in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

We, Pakistanis, are a bit slow in understanding and following the laws of our country. True, sometimes they are ridiculous but not most of the time. Obviously, there is a reason why our lives are defined by rules whether statutory or social in nature. All it takes for a pandemonium to ensue is the absence of logical and understandable set of laws, such as the one we experience when we are stuck on the roads of Karachi.

Recently, Karachi Traffic Police announced imprisonment of six months to two years for breaching traffic regulations. This includes going the wrong way on a one-way road, breaking traffic signals, and overcrowding/rooftop passengers on public buses. While the sudden interest of the traffic police in the matters of traffic is quite admirable but the penalty of breaching these rules is quite incomprehensible. For the safety of lives, the rule can be justified for the bus drivers carrying the passengers on rooftops but in the mind of our general public, violations of traffic signals and one-way are as regular a thing as having a cup of tea every morning.

Imprisoning someone for six to 24 months is actually a big deal. Such penalties are handed over by courts to the criminals who are involved in much more than breaking a traffic regulation. Penalising people in such a way in a country where the actual laws are scarcely known and understood is not only preposterous but also forego the lifelong social and professional stigmas that come with being incarcerated ,for whatsoever the reason, in a country like Pakistan.

Authorities must realise that you suddenly cannot impose a penalty and expect people to accept it and follow the rules immediately. Neither will such a strategy prove to be effective. Rules and regulations need to have cogent reasons and must not seem to be conjured up out of desperation. What the authorities need to do is to engage with people and apprise them of the risks of breaching these rules. This can be done with advertisements in print and electronic media, billboards and the use of pamphlets. General public need to be told that these rules and regulations are there to facilitate them and ensure their own safety, instead of just a means to fulfil the finance needs of the traffic police’s underpaid department.

Believe me when I say it that people of Karachi, in fact Pakistan, are already sceptic of the role of the police and it is a well-known fact that a vast majority of the public does not trust them. In such circumstances, the promulgation of such traffic penalties will only widen the gap and raise the mistrust between the public and police which is the biggest hurdle in the way for effective policing.

Without a carefully planned campaign, these traffic penalties will only deepen the feelings of hostility towards the police department. According to some of the people I discussed the issue with, this will be another way they can garner money (read: bribe) from the public in the name of chai paani and that the rate of such transactions will only increase now.

Authorities in the traffic police must realise that in order to implement the effective traffic rules and regulations system, they need people to trust them and not view them as exploiters in uniform, otherwise, there will be no change in the traffic woes of our country no matter how severe the penalty or punishment is.

Mujtaba Hasan Zaidi

Mujtaba Hasan Zaidi

The author is a Chartered Management Accountant, and his interests include politics, playing guitar and tape ball cricket.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • IBN E ASHFAQ

    This is good business for Police as they can extort more money accusing any motorists of such an offence. Eidee before Eid qurban.Recommend

  • Queen

    it is a good decision to impose penalties for breaching traffic regulations. Much needed especially for a city like Karachi but on the same side, traffic authorities need to ensure that these penalties are imposed on actual culprits rather than on innocent people. In developed countries, people have to pay hefty fine for minor traffic violations like violating the speed limit and it is high time such fines are imposed in Karachi as well.Recommend

  • Azmat Ali

    To me, this is good news. Does anyone know how much one has to pay if you break one of the key traffic rules in the Western World? Hefty penalties are the key reason why everyone here drives like a sane person. No one can even think of going through a red light or sit on the roof of a car or bus or go the other direction on a one-way road. The fines would be in the hundreds of dollars, the insurance for the cars will go up for at least 2 – 3 years and in the case of people on roof or going wrong way, their cars can even be impounded or their licenses temporarily suspended.
    Yes, jail terms sounds harsh. But imagine the amount of money a policeman can ask of a motorbike rider breaking the traffic light or going the wrong way!! The poor policemen are getting a bonus OR the people will find a little sanity and stop doing these incredibly unlawful things.
    Works for me both ways!Recommend

  • Bash Gull

    First of all look at the state of the traffic signals, except for the posh areas the rest of the city it is just a junk. First of all the fitness of all public vehicles should be checked. Look at the rusted metal sheets of buses. The seats are congested and torn. Make sure that the buses and coaches only stop along the kerb or near a bus stop. No bus, rickshaw, wagons or motor cycles should be allowed to drive in the fast lane. Lane markings should be visible. Over speeding at traffic signals or driving without a valid license or dangerously overtaking should be penalised with jail sentence. Who introduced the Qinqi rickshaws? Where were the authorities when they were manufactured at workshops? Instead of regularizing them, they banned them. This is the only country in the world where there are no meters in taxis and rickshaws. What a nuclear power?Recommend

  • Gullu

    It is people like YOU, who are the reason for these draconian laws.
    For years, no, decades the traffic police tried to enforce traffic laws
    to no avail. Traffic has become unmanageable, beyond control. The
    traffic police tried everything. While people INVENTED their own ways
    of driving. Not a days goes by without traffic fatalities and severe injuries.
    There are motorcycles, now, that drive on pedestrian footpaths during
    rush hour !! YOU are dead wrong in your pathetic excuses. Just a few
    months ago a trucker was driving the WRONG WAY on a one way lane
    of the Super Highway, near Karachi. He smashed into a fully loaded bus.
    And killed 63 people. Most burnt beyond recognition. Every other month
    there are severe, serious incidents, caused by drivers NOT following traffic
    rules. Resulting in horrendous deaths. These severe penalties are EXACTLY
    what is needed. Because killing people, by DELIBERATELY breaking traffic
    laws is equal to murder, in so many ways.Recommend

  • Voice of Reason

    “violations of traffic signals and one-way are as regular a thing as having a cup of tea every morning”

    this very mindset is forcing the government to employ such severe means.
    I think there is no problem here at all. Don’t break the rules and you don’t have to care what the penalty is!
    Rather than always dumping the responsibility on the government, write a blog appealing to people to follow traffic rules, the punishment will automatically become redundant.Recommend

  • pnpuri

    Probably similar situation exists in Delhi. Though it is much better in Mumbai and South Indian cities. People will travel with helmet or belt, but on reaching delhi and Chandigarh they will wear belt helmet. . Imprisonment may be harsh buT penal can be increased. I have a suggestion in place of imprisoning driver confiscate vehicle for 3 days to week. The other problem faced in Delhi is people waiting in Wong lane obstructing traffic of the lane. A simple suggestion which, I saw in Mumbai, they tell driver not to stop and drive as permitted. The effect is that while traffic is not stopped, the erring driver has to take alonger route to reach destination Recommend

  • Gullu

    Do not compare the West to a Third World Country.Recommend

  • Cobrajock

    You can’t be serious. The foremost indication of a destroyed society is when its educated classes start accepting a wrong as the norm; Its end of story. Concentrate on that guitar, because if these state of affairs continue, a CA will not help.Recommend

  • Anon

    And just the other day at the Metropole signal which was Red a police told me to go through. I called him and asked him if he was blind and if he was really a law enforcer or not. He immediately started acting and turned to the signal and said oh “yeh abhi red huyi hogi” which was so not true. I asked his name and moved on.Recommend

  • http://www.insuraati.com/ Ali Khan

    Lol, the reason I persist with reading comments , always ! Recommend

  • Qazi

    The voice of reason fails to comprehend the corrupt nature of Traffic police, after all THEY have to implement the law… This law merely raised their bribe rates as they now will threaten young drivers for imprisonment as well and get hefty amount every day in form of bribes.Recommend

  • Qazi

    that was not super highway, that was a two way road leading to gharu… Recommend

  • Gullu

    It was leading to your house.Recommend

  • Sindhi

    So, it means keeping driving on footpaths, keep breaking laws,
    keep killing people, drive as you wish. Everyone for himself.
    There we have it. YOU are a Prime Example for the reason for a fast deteriorating society broken down society. Turning into lawlessness.
    Recommend

  • Tamachi.

    Wrong. It was on Super Highway, in Sohrab Goth.
    The truck driver survived. And ran away, back to FATA.
    They never caught him.Recommend

  • MHZ

    I never accepted traffic violations as a norm in my personal belief. In fact my previous blog is on the violations of traffic rules by Pakistanis as a nation.
    I wrote that it is not considered as something wrong by majority of our countrymen. To change that mindset, you need to apprise them of the facts and how such violations are disastrous and tell them the logic behind such measure. In a society where rules are so scarcely understood, you first need to explain those to the people. You misunderstood me and disproportionately..Recommend

  • MHZ

    My previous blog was on the issue of how people need to take responsibility instead of always blaming the government.
    However, in the current scenario, the measure has been taken yet has not been explained to the people, a major chunk of whom actually have no regard for the system or the traffic regulations.

    First para pretty much explained my belief in the rules and in the steps to follow them.

    All I want is for a proper system to be implemented instead of haphazard measures.Recommend

  • MHZ

    I maybe dead wrong in my reasons, but trust me when I say this that I loathe it when people go wrong way or break a signal.
    Am very proud to say that I do not do that.
    However, smashing my blog with your metaphorical “Maula Bakhshs” is wrong because I said that for majority of our people, such violations are not even a wrong. And when you do not think that a wrong is a wrong, you eep on doing that no matter how grave the consequences.

    So, for that, they need to be educated.. They need to be explained. And then should such penalties be promulgated.
    Recommend

  • Gullu

    Er,..well..see…did you read the comment? Nope. You just glanced.
    The second line says “..for years, no, decades..” Everyone and his
    brother tried everything, Awareness campaigns you name it, but
    nothing worked. So these laws are the last straw. Last resort.
    They are very appropriate. Either follow the rules or else, face
    the consequences. Big gorilla bribes to the traffic police, or go to
    jail. [Bribes, that will mean living on bread and water for the rest of
    of the month because your salary just went to the traffic police, simply
    because you deliberately drove down a one way street or had no helmet on] When you pass your test and receive your driving license…
    YOU KNOW ALL THE TRAFFIC RULES AND LAWS.Recommend