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Drink Driving Crackdown in Nepal

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Download In Nepal, driving after just a sip of alcohol is an offence.

The law has zero tolerance for drink-driving. But many Nepalis drink and drive anyway – with a massive road toll as a result.

Over seventeen hundred people were killed in the last full year’s statistics, and more than eleven thousand injured.

Last December, Kathmandu’s Metropolitan Traffic Police launched a campaign against drink-driving.

Over four months, the police have fined up to 200 people every day – around 17 thousand in total.

Rajan Parajuli joins the traffic police night shift to see the campaign in action.

It’s 9pm and I’m standing on the main road at Kings’ Way – a popular Kathmandu hangout with many discos, pubs and bars.

Eight traffic police are on duty, stopping every driver to test if he’s been drinking.

One officer stops two young men on a motorbike.

He comes close to the driver’s face and sniffs his breath for alcohol.

The driver tries to argue, saying he had good reasons to drink.

"Sir! I just went to my friend’s party, he’s just become a lieutenant. I’ve already been in custody for this before. I have a driving license. Please let me go!”

But the officer took his license, impounded the motorbike, and hailed a taxi for him.

At least the driver’s going home. When the campaign started, a driver caught with alcohol on his breath spent a night in police custody.

But with almost 200 people caught every day, there simply wasn’t enough space.

Sitaram Hachethu is Kathmandu’s Traffic Inspector.

"The number of drunk drivers was so high that we couldn’t find any place left to park their cars and bikes. We had to lock 80 people in a small room which was meant for only 20 people. In the lockup, people had to stand the whole day. That’s too much so we had to stop. So now we just take their vehicles and ask them to go home in a taxi.”

And as we saw, police don’t have any high-tech tools to detect whether a driver has consumed alcohol.

"We ask them to blow and then we sniff their breath to see if that person has taken alcohol. It’s difficult. One of our traffic officers started vomiting after smelling drivers’ breath. We often became dizzy when checking the breath of these drivers. So recently we bought breathalyzers from China so that our officers don’t catch any respiratory diseases.”

In Nepal, it’s prohibited to drink and drive.

But the law doesn’t set any specific alcohol limit – and the police interpret this to mean zero alcohol is allowed.

That’s difficult for many of Nepal’s communities, who regularly include a dose of alcohol in cultural events.

Kiran Shrestha is from the Newar community, which is the sixth largest ethnic group in Nepal.

Every day Newars drink home-made alcohol  called thwon and aila.

Some ethnic groups offer alcohol to the gods in religious ceremonies – and people have to consume alcohol at those events.

For Kiran, the police campaign is not fair on his community.

"From the time we were born until we are dead, alcohol comes in every stage of our life, in every cultural event. Obviously, we need to have some indicator to measure the level of alcohol consumption allowed under the law. It’s hard for us to just ignore the culture. We’re terrified. We have to think twice before making a good luck wish, where we put alcohol on a boiled egg and eat that. The level should be around 30 milliliter of alcohol or something like that.”

Restaurant owners take a similar stand.

30 percent of all alcohol is sold in restaurants and bars, and this campaign has driven away customers.

The Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal confirms that sales during the busiest times have gone down by almost half, since the anti drink-driving campaign was launched.

But the police believe this campaign is necessary.

" We need zero tolerance of drink-driving because our roads have no lights. We have zig-zag roads full of holes. Can you believe that? In the evening, the traffic accident rate in Kathmandu has gone down more than 80 percent since we launched the campaign. We haven’t had any reports of gang fights at night either. Many parents and women thanked us for this because their children are coming home on time. Recent statistics also show lower levels of domestic violence cases now.”

According to the law, when someone is caught with alcohol on his breath, the police can take away his vehicle, his driving license, and fine him around 10 US dollars.

The next day, the driver can get his license and vehicle back after paying the fine.

If he breaks the law again, the fine increases.

And all repeat offenders must join a one-hour orientation class at the traffic police station.

Around 30 people sit in rows inside this hall.

Ranging from lawyers to social workers, they are all convicted of drink-driving.

On the wall are pictures of traffic accident victims – people with broken legs or covered in blood.

Inspector Bipin Gautam stands in front of the drivers and explains why they’re here.

"When you’re drunk, your body can’t respond fast. It’s deadly – look at these photos. You will be disabled for the rest of your life, just like them. In Bulgaria, drunk drivers can be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. We also have our rules. So please listen to us. Don’t drink while driving.”

After class I met Hira Kaji Pradhan. He was fined 20 US dollars for repeatedly drink-driving.

"Everything they said, it was really good. Drinking while driving is very risky. But for me, it’s become a habit. There’s no medicine to quit alcohol, so what can I do? But I will try not to drive while I’m drunk.”

Police claim the number of drunk drivers has gone down more than 50 percent in the past four months.

And thanks to the drivers, the government has collected more than 150 thousand US dollars in fines.

That’s a success – and now other major cities of Nepal are copying Kathmandu’s campaign.


Last Updated ( Monday, 30 April 2012 08:50 )  

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