COVER STORY: It’s a Friday evening in Thimphu. The sun has gone behind the mountains. Soon it will be dark.
At the National Memorial Choeten, a group of traffic police are setting up plastic tables and chairs. Down at the expressway too, below the Technical Training Institute, the police are busy. It’s Zero Tolerance Day.
All’s set. There is a hug table umbrella. There could be a heavy downpour tonight. Streetlights are beaming.
The Royal Bhutan Police’s Traffic Division and Road Safety and Transport Authority started Zero Tolerance Day from April 17 to bring down the number of vehicle accidents. It has been observed that road users increase manifold, especially during weekends. Anyone found violating traffic rule is penalised without any excuse.
Now the vehicles are in a long queue. There is a black Alto car in the front. Another policeman approaches the driver and asks him to produce his driving licence and blue book. The driver hands the documents with a smile. Another policeman approaches the driver with Alcoblow.
The driver blows into the head of the instrument. A green light beeps on the instrument, which indicates that there is no alcohol content in the driver’s body. He is allowed to drive off.
This process repeats, one vehicle after another.
Traffic Superintendent Major Namgay is there, inspecting the whole process. He says that if driver fail to produce driving licence and blue book on the spot, they must pay Nu 1,750 fine. “We issue them what is known as Transport Infringement Notice (TIN) for drink-driving, for not producing driving documents on the spot and speeding.”
The day starts from 8am to 3am, run on two shifts. And this happens throughout the country every Friday and Saturday.
The police are serious about it, because more accidents occur on weekends. The Zero Tolerance Day is conducted throughout the week, but on these two days we conduct in a wide area, says Major Namgay.
However, not all drivers welcome the idea. Sometimes, things turn out to be really funny.
It’s 2am. Partygoers are returning home. At the memorial choeten, there is a long line of cars. A police stops a green Celerio. There is a young man of about 20 behind the wheel. The police asks the man to blow into the Alcoblow. After a few seconds, a red light beeps on the machine.
The police asks the man to step out of the car and produce vehicle documents. He is made to blow into another instrument called SD400 breath analyser, which is kept on the table some distance away from the spot. Group of police watch the man bending slowly towards the machine.
The man doesn’t blow into the machine, however. He is so drunk that he has no strength to do so. He can’t even stand still.
The police tells him to try blowing into the machine once more. But there is no hope. He just can’t do it. But the drama continues to unfold. The scene turns comical, like from a funny movie.
Suddenly, the man is furious. He has made fool of himself enough. He pulls out a card from his pocket and begins threatening the police. This annoys the police. The scene turns serious. A police pulls out a camera and starts recording the scene for evidence if the scene turns ugly.
Curses fly from the man. He is rambling on, threatening the police. He says he is a person not to be messed with even slightly because he has good connection with some senior bureaucrats.
Two senior police officers walk into the scene. They tell him to co-operate, or else he will be locked up for the night. The man doesn’t listen. He is just too drunk to hear anyone speaking to him.
There is now a long queue of vehicles, waiting their turn. Officers take the man to the side and begin their rounds with the vehicles in the line.
“This is nothing compared with some drivers who turns violent when we tell them that they will have to pay a fine,” says a police officer. “Curiously sometimes, it is the passengers who don’t cooperate with us.”
The SD400 breath analyser takes a breath sample through a white mouthpiece, and the reading is printed out.
“When the reading is printed out, we ask the driver to sign on it, which we keep as an evidence,” says Major Namgay.
However, there is a permissible limit of alcohol level for drivers after they are tested positive for alcohol consumption.
Adds Major Namgay: “One is allowed to drive and is not considered drink-driving if the alcohol level is below 0.08 milligrams and if one’s driving licence is more than three years.”
There is no permissible limit, however, for commercial vehicles such as taxi, medium and heavy vehicles.
Says Major Namgay: “Our duty is to make sure that all drivers reach home safe. We don’t allow them to drive home if they are under the influence of alcohol. We encourage everyone to drive responsibly and hopefully cooperate with us.”
Police say that after starting Zero Tolerance Day number of vehicle accidents has decreased by much. Drivers are also more cooperative.
Since April 17, a total of 6,387 drivers across the country have been issued TIN: 356 fined for not possessing driving licence, 529 for drink-driving, 922 for not carrying driving license, 135 for using mobile phone while driving, 354 for speeding, and 181 for carrying extra passengers.
More than Nu 6.M penalty money has been collected so far.
By Thinley Zangmo