When did breaking a signal become such a serious crime?

Published: August 11, 2015

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.