The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot in the capital. The police were one of them. Over the past year, traffic police have relied more on technology to enforce the rules based on social distancing norms, but less physical intrusion has resulted in a decline in law enforcement for crimes such as drink-driving or cell-phone use while driving.
Senior traffic officials said last year the total number of challans issued for traffic violations had increased compared to 2019, but that increase was primarily due to an increase in camera-based law enforcement for crimes such as speeding, signal jumping and stopping line violations.
“Last year, the department worked under several restrictions because of Covid-19. We had to make sure that all security precautions were in place and that enforcement did not suffer. Under these constraints, we have worked to strengthen technology-based policing, which strikes a balance between manual policing and technological intervention, “said a senior traffic official on condition of anonymity.
Accusations are rising, but drinking is driving cases down
Traffic police data shows the department issued 13,802,973 challans in the past year, up from 10,580,249 in 2019. However, while the total number of fines has increased, the number of challans, or on-site challans, has increased. Typically beaten for offenses such as drink-driving and cell-phone driving or lane violations saw a decline.
From 5,274,957 challans issued in 2019, the number fell to 1,322,623 in 2020.
The data also shows that drink-driving law enforcement has declined the most as a result of the pandemic. On March 19, 2020, days before a nationwide lockdown was imposed, traffic police issued a notice that alcohol tests for drink-driving had been “temporarily” suspended due to safety concerns.
“There are no controls for drunk driving unless someone is visibly drunk and drives so recklessly that he endangers his life or the lives of others, and this also with all possible precautionary measures,” says the message.
Officials said this happened because a driver had to blow into an alcometer or breathalyzer, which increases the risk of the virus being passed on to police personnel. Given the high rate of infection in the city, this is a risky option for law enforcement agencies.
The data shows that the Department of Transportation issued 3,986 drink-driving challans last year – a dramatic decrease from 36,065 issued in 2019.
Back to the old ways
The Delhi traffic police resumed alcohol testing on September 5th after a break of over a year. Over 90 commuters were prosecuted on the first day. Police Special Envoy (Transport) Muktesh Chander said now that the city is slowly getting back on track and bars, pubs and restaurants have opened, it is time to regain control of drink-driving.
“The breathalyzer is disinfected after each use and the tubes are changed every time. All of our teams have also been instructed to follow appropriate Covid-19 behavior at all times, e.g.
Driving under the influence of alcohol will be prosecuted.
Driving under the influence of alcohol will be prosecuted. In the first offense is a person fined ₹10,000 or a prison sentence of up to six months or both. Second and further violations will result in a fine of ₹15,000 or prison sentences up to two years or both are applicable.
Before law enforcement resumed for drunk driving, drivers who were visibly drunk were sent to nearby state hospitals for blood alcohol tests.
“To ensure that drink-driving law enforcement is not completely ignored, we have decided that drunk drivers will be prosecuted based on medical tests. They were taken to nearby state hospitals to have their blood alcohol levels tested and based on these results we charged them, ”said another senior traffic policeman.
On New Years Eve and Holi this year, when the maximum prosecution for alcohol abuse occurs each year, enforcement teams only issued 100 and 26 challans, respectively. In comparison, over 1,300 people were charged on New Year’s Eve in 2019 and 647 people were fined for drunk driving during Holi. All of this was based on medical tests.
Law’s long arm falls too short
Officials manning checkpoints across the city said the pandemic has also made violations easier to escape controls.
“We’re still setting up checkpoints near pubs and bars, but the difference is that now a lot of people blatantly refuse to be checked because of Covid security issues. While we know they are only trying to escape the action, there is not much we can do about it. In many cases we ask the violators to stop, but they race off without caring who is in the way, ”said a traffic policeman in central Delhi.
Last August, a 51-year-old traffic policeman was run over by a driver in Raghubir Nagar, West Delhi. Then, in September last year, a traffic sub-inspector was run over by a truck in Burari, northern Delhi.
Keep it up
Traffic experts said the post-pandemic world needs new police tactics to keep people out of harm’s way while ensuring that no perpetrator escapes.
“We’re still looking for ways to work our way through the pandemic, and that is what the transportation department will have to find out too. When governments open bars, pubs and restaurants, there will be some night owls and partiers who break the law and put their own lives and that of others on the street at risk. It’s about adapting to the situation, ”said Sheetal Sinha of Citizens for Safer Roads, a road safety group operating in Delhi and NCR.
Cities across the country are also experimenting with measures to strike a balance between traffic police and protecting their employees and commuters from infection.
For example, Chennai Traffic Police, among the worst affected by Covid-19 and which killed more than nine officers from the infection, have started conducting medical examinations for traffic cops on the spot. The department has linked up with voluntary organizations for this purpose.
During the first wave in April and May, Mumbai Police also began issuing color-coded stickers for emergency vehicles to prioritize them on the streets.