Use of mobile phones while driving to be included in list of serious offences

ISLAMABAD: After much deliberation in the ministries of law and interior, the traffic police have now decided to include the use of mobile phones while driving in the list of serious offences.

It has proposed to fine motorcyclists Rs1,000, car drivers Rs1,500 and public transport drivers Rs2,000 for using mobile phones to text, voice calls and making videos while driving.

“We are waiting for the Cabinet Division to approve the new proposed fines. At present, use of mobile phones comes under the heading of ‘other miscellaneous offences’,” said SP Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) Sarfraz Virk.

According to ITP’s data, since January, 53 accidents have been registered of vehicles hitting bikes of which 43 were fatal. There have been 21 accidents of vehicles hitting pedestrians of which 15 were fatal and 30 collisions between vehicles of which 11 were fatal. The numbers of unregistered cases are not known.

SP says waiting for Cabinet Division to approve new proposed fines

The ITP also does not know if the cause of the above-mentioned accidents was distracted driving, including the 40,527 fines for lane violations.

Since the start of 2021, 15,233 drivers have been fined a meagre Rs300 for using mobile phones while driving. Still there is no specific ban on talking and texting while driving.

SP Virk complained that traffic police were facing an acute shortage of staff and had sought additional human and material resources.

“Today, the human resource and material are the same as it were in 2005 when the ITP was set up for the estimated 500,000 indigenous population of the capital city,” he said.

“The indigenous population has increased to 2.2 million while traffic police are working with the same strength of 685 staff which included officers and jawans. Among the top functions we perform are VVIP movement, pilot duties for dignitaries, traffic regulation, licencing, education and finally enforcements,” SP Virk said.

He further said the number of traffic police staff had dropped to 618 after some of them retired and the positions were still vacant.

“With 10 per cent (62) personnel on leave, the traffic police are currently equipped with 556 staff working in three shifts. During a VVIP movement, 350 staff are engaged on the 17 km stretch from the airport to Serena Hotel,” the SP said, giving an example of why enforcement was suffering.

“We have proposed to increase the staff to 2,600-plus to increase presence across the city, including two new zones. Of these, over 1,200 wardens will be dedicated for the enforcement of regulations on roads,” he said.

According to Mr Virk, these increased resources are needed especially after the number of cars registered in the capital city till April 2021 had increased to 1.17 million since 1981. From 1981 till 2005, there were roughly 250,000 vehicles registered in the city.

“Our biggest challenge is that citizens in supposedly 100pc literate Islamabad break the law knowing it can have serious consequences. Accidents happen in a blink of an eye. You have to be paying attention all the time. You never know what call, which text, or your post can be your last when you are doing it from behind the wheel,” said another senior police official.

He said there was never a text or a social media post that needed a response while behind the wheel. When these tragedies happen, it’s not the people who were involved but their families also whose lives were changed.

A citizen, Shehryar Khan, said: “There is less talking on cell phones when people are behind wheels, but a lot more fiddling with them.”

Often there was one driver ahead slowing up traffic behind him only because he must respond to a “very” important text message or just for no reason keep checking WhatsApp or Facebook, complained Babar Shah, adding: “The police check speeding, why doesn’t it fine drivers for under-speeding and disrupting smooth flow of traffic,” he added.

Iqbal Siddiqui was waiting for the light to turn green at a signal when a speeding Toyota Passo squeezed between his Honda Civic and the road divider, scraping the paint job and hitting and twisting the side mirror before coming to a screeching stop past the zebra crossing. While there were minor scratches on the right side of the Civic, the two drivers in front were not so lucky.

“There was hardly any space between the two cars in front and the divider. The newlywed couple in the Passo were distracted by their phones. Luckily, no one was hurt,” he said.

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