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Liquor ban on highways may increase risk to truckers as bootleggers get leeway

All over India the mafia must be spitting on its palms with glee. The money the gangsters and fixers lost on 8 November 2016 by way of demonetisation should be swiftly made up by the bootlegging operations and the supply spike in providing alcohol for truckers and other drivers and their vehicular occupants. The moment something gets banned, the underground whirrs into action and organised crime gets a major boost. This is not an Indian thing, it is natural human cause and effect. Ask the Chicago mobsters.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Not one trucker is going to stop drinking because the ‘yes dry’ zone of 500 metres from the highway will take a young runner or delivery boy about four minutes to cover with the order and the regulars won’t even have to ask, it will just appear. There is nothing magical about 501 metres except that India’s 5,472,144 km of roadway will now be juicy territory for the bootleggers to move a leg and boot the booze towards anyone who wants it.

The two types of highways in India are national (yellow and white milestones) and state (green and white milestones) and it is said as many as 1,600 outlets ranging from 5-star hotels to holes in the wall speakeasies will now down shutters on the nip and truck. Laudable as it might be to save lives, prohibition has never really succeeded and never will. There will always be a demand and those who want a beer or a tot of rum with their dinner before wheeling away will do just that.

If truth be told, the ban actually encourages simultaneous drinking and driving because of the alternative of relaxing, easing up, eating dinner and resting a bit as truckers swap stories will have disappeared. With no stopovers at those roadside dhabas and their equivalent you pass the bottle around the cabin. Get your stock and move on.

The thing is that such a ban might have made a bit of sense in cities and towns where city roads would have been included. That means every restaurant and hotel in India would be adversely impacted upon and we would have virtual public prohibition in the country.

With the country holding the world record in road deaths at around 400 a day, of which a little over half are on highways and the rest in cities, the two main causes are speeding and yes, drunken driving. Overloading of trucks and frightful maintenance in which axle snaps are most common contribute their might. There are no stats available for what percentage of accidents are caused by drunks but it is a sobering thought that over 62% of the 1,40,000 people who die every year in crashes and collisions (one in five being minors) are pedestrians, which means just officially blocking a 500 metre swathe of real estate on either side of the highways is not going to hack it.

It is the carelessness of rash driving and callous indifference to life in the city that should be tackled. The danger also intensifies and history proves it when spurious alcohol and rotgut becomes the faster and cheaper option on the bandwagon of the sip and run offer. As the contraband, good stuff becomes more expensive and out of range, the trucker revises his drinking habits to imbibe the bad stuff. You cannot break a trucker’s habits because it is part of his folklore in which he believes he needs his draft to stay awake. In fact, in his mind, the drink adds to his safety factor.

If this ban reduces the death rate, one would be delighted to be proven wrong. But the odds suggest that unless the other factors are addressed, the death rate might now go up because the law has not ended the problem of drinking and driving it has just made it a little inconvenient…a delay of a handful of minutes before home delivery occurs. Worst comes to worst, split the crew and walk to the freshly created designated area and have your fill. How soon before everyone on the route knows exactly where to stop and have some sermons and soda water.

Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 22:48 PM

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