Road rules and traffic fines: A law to be honoured more in the breach? | Sunday Observer

Road rules and traffic fines: A law to be honoured more in the breach?

Since the second reading of the Appropriation Bill in Parliament last week, much debate has taken place among the public regarding the various proposals in the budget speech by Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake. While reactions to the many proposals were mixed, among them was one that prompted unions related to the transport industry to call for strikes, as a sign of protest, and was arguably, the most controversial proposal put forward.

The said budget proposal read as:

Traffic Offences will be re-classified to be subject to spot fines and the minimum fine will be increased to Rs 2,500.”

However, with the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) and several other unions threatening to call for islandwide strikes over the weekend, the Ministry of Finance released a statement, with Minister Karunanayake claiming that the government will not waiver in imposing the minimum fine for traffic offences. It also went on to say that responding to the demand by private bus operators to abolish the proposed minimum traffic fine of Rs 2,500, Minister Karunanayake had said, the move was aimed at saving thousands of lives of motorists, as well as pedestrians. He had asked why the private bus operators are against such an increase. The Minister had also noted that a section of bus operators making such a demand amounted to a tacit admission that they are frequent offenders. “During the extensive consultations the Finance Ministry officials had with the public before finalizing the budget, a recurring demand was for the government to take bold measures to tackle indiscipline on the roads,” the Minister had said, explaining the addition of such a proposal to the budget.

While the public is keen on the final outcome, the fate of the proposal remains unclear, with more talks to take place tomorrow, with all stakeholders.

Accidents and fines

According to statistics of the Sri Lanka Police, accidents have seen an increase in the recent past with the steady increase of vehicles on the country’s roads. According to the Police, last year alone 2,600 fatal accidents took place resulting in 2,817 fatalities, and during the first six months of this year 1,365 fatal accidents were reported with 1,313 fatalities caused. According to Police statistics 19,916 accidents have taken place in 2016 during the same time period up from the reported 18,774 accidents last year.

The Police say, the data collected confirms that motorcycles, three wheelers, dual purpose vehicles, and private buses caused most of the accidents. Overtaking illegally, speeding, drunk driving and turning in a haphazard manner are the main reasons for the increase.

Despite the road safety situation being so endangering, Sri Lanka’s minimum fine today is a measly Rs 20, unchanged from the year 1981 for offences of reversing on a road and pumping petrol without taking proper safety precautions. While fines have been increased for certain offences since then, ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 3,000 for spot fines and Rs 5,000 upwards for prosecutable offences, such as, drunk driving, many fines and penalties are affordable and appears to not act as a deterrent to the offending drivers.

Singapore is perhaps a good example on how higher penalties and a demerit point system has helped create safer roads. Today, Singapore has a low death rate of 4.75 from traffic accidents while Sri Lanka scores 13.05 according to World Health rankings. Several attempts by the Sri Lanka Police in the past, to encourage officials to introduce a similar fine and demerit system was not met with enthusiasm.

The disciplined drivers and safe roads in the country with low accidents rates prove that higher fines along with a strict demerit points system can act as a deterrent to ensure better road safety in a country.


However, since the announcement of the proposal to revise the minimum traffic fine it has faced a storm of objections from various stakeholders despite clear public support.

In discussions held this week with the dissenting parties, Minister Karunanayake backtracked on the announcement claiming that the proposal was distorted and misinterpreted by the media. According to Gemunu Wijeratne President, Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) discussions with the Minister had ended successfully with the Minister allegedly informing that the Rupees 2,500 hike, “was not mentioned in the budget.”

According to Wijeratne the proposed minimum fine is not one affordable by the common man. “This is not only a problem for private buses but also for the public in general,” he said, adding that the fine amounted to a day’s wage of a private bus driver.

He also went to explain that while such fines may be practical on the roads of Europe where the road infrastructure is developed, it is not possible in Sri Lanka. “The roads are narrow and in bad shape, the public transportation system is not methodical and has many flaws,” he said.

Chairman, All Island Three Wheel Owners Association (AITWOA), Sudhil Jayaruk agrees. “We will agree to any fine imposed but infrastructure must be improved,” he said. Jayaruk said, following the meeting with Minister Karunanayake, the Minister has now promised that fines for smaller offences such as breaking a white line marking will not be increased.

However classifying breaking a white line as a trivial offence is confusing as according to police statistics, yearly, the highest number of accidents occur due to illegal overtaking. Last year 5,381 accidents occurred due to illegal overtaking which claimed 180 lives.

“We proposed that fines should be increased for drunk driving, driving without a licence and driving while under the age of 18,” Jayaruk said, adding that the Minister has promised us the minimum fine will not be increased to Rs 2,500, but only revise fines for certain offences. This fact was confirmed by Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Gayantha Karunathilaka at the cabinet press briefing held on Thursday.

Jayaruk claimed that increasing the minimum fine and the revision of the fine table will only help corrupt police officers. “If not, the money will not make it to the Treasury, but go into the pocket of others,” he said, an accusation voiced by others as well.

Speaking on the matter of the minimum fine, Secretary, All Ceylon Motorcyclists’ Association, Chirantha Amarasinghe, was of the opinion that increasing fines could only open the way for more corruption and bribery of police officers. “It will not help discipline the drivers,” he claimed.

Despite accusations of corruption, however, it is important to note that this year up to date the Police Traffic Division has collected a record Rs 1,664,781,416 in fines through dedicated detections and enforcing road rules showing an increasing number of errant drivers on the roads.

Amarasinghe suggests, fines should be imposed depending on the vehicle type as value of the vehicle signifies the wealth of the owner. “Therefore, we suggest fines for luxury vehicle owners should be increased to a minimum of Rs 10, 000,” he said.

However, the public sound disappointed at the change in stance made by the government. According to a member of the public, Jayantha Perera, it is laughable that the commonest offenders are opposing the proposal. “We see on the roads how private buses, trishaws and motorbikes are driven in a dangerous manner” he said adding that the government should enforce the proposal.

“They have nothing to worry about fines if they do not break road rules,” he said adding that road infrastructure and other reasons are mere excuses. “No matter how the roads are, and whether it be on a road or office, people need to have some discipline” he said. According to him requests by transport unions to lower the fines amounts to asking officials permission to freely break road rules.

The current situation

While the current situation now remains unclear, a meeting is to take place tomorrow (Monday) with the participation of transport unions, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport officials and the police.

However, whatever the outcome, Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Gayantha Karunathilaka on Thursday claimed, the best interest of road users and their safety will be the priority of the government during the upcoming discussions.


Imposing heavy fines on traffic offenses is not going to work as long as there is no one to implement traffic laws. If the existing fines are imposed on offending drivers the problem of accidents can be drastically reduced. We see 3-wheelers being driven most of the time on in the area reserved for pedestrians to walk. If pedestrians do not step aside when the three wheelers/bikes are coming they can be abused and shouted at as well. The buses coming to Colombo from north (Anuradhapura to Jaffna) can drive aggressively on the right-hand side of the road with impunity. This happens right infront of the police on Kand-Colombo highway. when these buses push their way through drivers of smaller vehicles move out to save their vehicles. I have never seen these drivers being stopped despite the fact that police are everywhere in the morning. All traffic violations happen in full view of the Police. They are not interested in enforcing the law most of the time. So this problem cannot be solved with increased fines. Current fines are very effective if the Police take action. What is required is to take action when the laws are violated. Installing cameras on highways to monitor traffic movement can catch these offenders independent of the police on duty. Technology does not take bribes and fines can be imposed on all offenders. This will raise revenue for the government and control traffic violations.