Liquor ban on highways is no real solution to the problem of drunk driving: Here's why

Got a problem? The solution, apparently, is to ban things.

Supreme Court. AFP

Supreme Court. AFP

Following the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500 metres of state and national highways, my neighbourhood wise guy was livid.

“Why ban watering holes 500 metres from highways? What if someone has a bar at 501 metres? It’s intriguing indeed. A distance of one metre makes one establishment legal and another illegal. And how does it address the core problem of people drinking and hitting the road in an inebriated state? Obviously there’s no logic to it,” he fumed, upset that his favourite places outside the city had stopped serving alcohol.

“Ban alcohol altogether. That will solve all problems,” he said, derisively.

He has a point. Distance from the highway to the bar is hardly the reason for road accidents; drunk driving is. Smart hoteliers or bar owners would try and circumvent the rule by changing the entry point to their establishments or by setting up spaces for drinking at a safe distance. Now, how do you handle this problem? By having another ban stipulating a one-kilometre rule? It is possible inventive liquor sellers would find a way around it too.

The point is, the court order might come from a noble place and have good intentions, but the solution remains utterly flawed. What about people tanking up at home or at joints within cities before taking a drive on the highway? They might be tempted to carry their bottles with them. These are people who are likely to get into accidents.

Hoteliers claim this decision will cause around 10 lakh people to lose their jobs. Did the court consider this while passing the order? If it did, then it failed to appreciate the inherent unfairness involved in the decision. A distance of a metre or two could drive thousands of people out of work. They're being punished for someone else's crime. And no, we aren't just talking of the people who drive drunk— obviously, the villains of the piece – we're also talking of  law enforcement who should have been more diligent in their duty.

There are enough laws against drunk driving. There are provisions for revocation of licences, stiff penalties and even jail terms for offenders under Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act. If enforced well, they would drive the fear of God into violators. Why do people not speak of the critical role enforcers must play in curbing the menace of drunk driving?

There are several points where individuals who are drunk driving could be nabbed. For example, right after they leave a watering hole and before they hit the highway. Persistent random checks of drivers could be useful too.

People may still find ways to beat the enforcers, but then there will never be a watertight solution to such problems. In Mumbai, strong enforcement has curbed drunk driving big time. To some extent, it has also worked in Bengaluru. And there’s no reason why it won’t work elsewhere.

Bans are never the answer. They are an easy solution, which only conceal someone else’s incompetence and lack of ability to come up with creative solutions.

That brings us back to my wiseguy friend: “Ban alcohol. Rape exists: Ban sex. Women are assaulted at night: Ban their movement after dark. Why don't we ban roads? If there are no roads, there won't be any vehicles—which means no drivers—which means no accidents. Everyone is safe," he said.

The sarcasm in his voice is hard to miss. And one can't blame him for appearing scornful of the entire exercise. Surely, there are better solutions than bans. When courts, too, start getting on to ban-wagon, it becomes a cause for concern.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 17:42 PM

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