As cases of drink driving and accidents caused by them rise, the Bombay high court on Thursday said there was a need for a zero-tolerance policy towards drunken driving, and for this, urged the Centre to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, to bring down minimum quantity of blood alcohol from 30mg per 100 ml to zero.
“We find nothing to suggest that some quantity of alcohol in the blood can be considered safe,” said a division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Gautam Patel, while asking the government to inform the court in six weeks if it was willing to amend section 185 of the act to bring down minimum alcohol quantity to zero, or allow the state governments to have their own norms.
“There is, in fact, no reason why any person who has had any amount of drink should be permitted to drive,” the judges said, adding, “Given the alternatives available (like employing a driver) and having regard to manifest risk, especially to third parties, we would strenuously urge the adoption by the Central government of a zero-tolerance policy towards drunken driving.”
The bench said the time had come for such a measure, especially after 705 people were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol in Mumbai alone on New year’s eve last year.
“Too many lives have already been lost to this lethal cocktail of internal consumption and internal combustion,” the judges said.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by journalist Nikhil Wagle in the wake of the hit-and-run incident involving Bollywood superstar Salman Khan. The petition raised concern about the rising cases of drink driving and the lack of stringent penal provisions to tackle accidents caused by drunk drivers.
The judges stated several reasons why the act needed to be amended.
First, they felt the 30 mg/100 ml limit appeared “theoretical” as the effect of alcohol on an individual varies and depends on several factors, including the person’s body type, how much food was consumed, a genetic tolerance for alcohol and how fast the alcohol is consumed, among other things.
Second, the judges pointed out norms followed by other countries could not be applicable for Indian cities as our roads are crowded, there is pedestrian movement on roads because there are few pavements and where sidewalks are wide enough, they are occupied by vendors during the day and by the poor at night.
“This makes drunken driving all the more dangerous and we don’t think it is possible to ignore these conditions, especially given our experience with fatalities caused to third parties by reported incidents of drink driving,” the court said. “Even the minutest impairment caused by alcohol might have the most disastrous consequence.”
The judges found no reason why the police should be burdened to prove the alcohol level in the blood of the accused was beyond a particular level, and felt just the presence of alcohol in blood should be sufficient to disentitle a person from driving.
“This would go a long way to ensure safety on our roads, apart from lessening burden on enforcement agencies.”