Prakash (44) (name changed) was driving his Maruti Alto on Sardar Patel Road on a Thursday night around 9 pm when he was pulled by the traffic police checking for motorists under the influence of alcohol. When asked to blow into the breathalyser, Prakash did so without any resistance, confident that he was not inebriated.
When Prakash argued with the police personnel, he was taken to Halda junction where he again tested positive for drunken driving. “I was told that I had to leave my car and pay a fine of Rs 10,000 before a magistrate the next morning. But, they were also open to negotiation,” Prakash told DT Next. After a long discussion, he agreed to pay Rs 3,000 as bribe and was let off with a warning not to drive the car until 2.30 am the next morning, to which he obliged.
As fines for all other traffic offences are now cashless, it looks like the drunken driving cases have become the lone ‘scheme’ for police officers cash in on motorists’ fear to pay fine of up to Rs 15,000 and seizure vehicle.
While the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, is yet to be officially notified in the State and old fines remain for other traffic offences such as helmet-less driving and signal violations, some magistrates have already started imposing Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 for drunken driving and drunken driving without licence respectively. A traffic enforcement inspector said that at the stations which fall under the revenue district of Tiruvallur — Ambattur, Maduravoyal and Poonamallee — magistrates impose a fine of only Rs 2,000, while other magistrates in the city charge up to Rs 10,000.
Despite senior officials having introduced several technologies such as body-worn cameras and upgraded breathalysers to make traffic enforcement corrupt-free, police personnel at the ground-level continue to collect bribe using loopholes.
“When a person is checked for drunken driving, breathalysers will automatically click his photo and the blood alcohol content is shown on screen. If it crosses 0.030 per cent, police personnel should take a print out of the same and attach it with the e-challan generated from the other hand-held machine. The vehicle should be seized if the offender does not have anybody else to drive the vehicle and be produced before the magistrate the next day. The driver should appear in person before the magistrate and pay the fine in order to receive the vehicle,” said an inspector elaborating on how the system should ideally work.
However, what happens in a number of cases is that police personnel start negotiating with the offender and collect Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 as bribe threatening that they would otherwise end up paying Rs 10,000 at the court. “Unless the alcohol content is alarmingly high, the motorists are allowed to drive the vehicle after receiving the bribe,” said one of the victims. An inspector said that if the data stored in the breathalysers is compared with the actual number of cases booked, the cat would be out of the bag. But he added that it is a long and tedious process. It is also said that many traffic enforcement officers do not keep record option on the body-worn cameras on, despite several warnings by the senior officials.
Even as law and order police personnel catch persons driving vehicles under the influence of alcohol, he/she is supposed to be taken to the traffic enforcement sub-inspector, who would be on the night patrol to confirm it with breathalysers. “But what happens is that traffic police personnel are informed only if they could not strike a deal with the offender,” said a traffic inspector. While law and police personnel have been barred from checking motorists for drunken driving in some zones, the practice exists in other parts of the city. When contacted, Additional Commissioner (Traffic) A Arun said, “We have not come across any complaints of police personnel receiving bribes in drunk driving cases. If drunk persons are asked for bribes by police personnel, they should take it up with higher officials instead of colluding with them and being part of the crime.”
Blood test to confirm offence no longer in practice
Earlier, suspected drunk motorists were taken to the nearby government hospital for a blood test to confirm the percentage of blood alcohol content to prosecute him or her. However, ever since the introduction of breathalysers, blood test have been redundant as magistrates started accepting the readings of breathalyser. However, a section of people continue to argue that breathalysers’ reading should not be taken as the conclusive evidence as the possibility of the machines being faulty cannot be ignored. Blood alcohol content is measured in milligrams in a volume of blood equal to 100 millilitres (ml). While it is legally permissible to drive vehicles if the alcohol content in the blood does not exceed 0.029% BAC, justice R Mahavadevan in October suggested that the government should remove the permissible limit of 30 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.