Hoardings put across Delhi late last year pronounced that a large number of accidents (21,333 to be precise) were averted due to prosecutions by the Delhi Traffic Police. While the claim appears to be a bit exaggerated, the influence of alcohol as a major cause of road accidents all across the world has emerged as an indisputable fact.

In the recent past, the Delhi Police have upped the ante against violators of law and they believe there is a clear co-relation between the decline in the number of fatal accidents and the drive against drunken driving.

According to the latest data available for 2013, as many as 9,877 cases of drunken driving have been reported. The police insist that the actual figure is definitely much higher.

As per existing laws, an accused is punished for the first offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 6 months or a fine up to Rs.2,000 or both; and for a subsequent offence committed within 3 years of the previous offence, with imprisonment which may extend up to 2 years or fine up to Rs.3,000 or both. In most cases, offenders get away by just paying the fines.

While campaigners allege that for those from affluent families do not mind paying fines and thus the law fails to deter them, statistics reveal that in some cases, the licenses have also been suspended. In 2012, of the 25,678 prosecutions – which were the highest in comparison to any previous year – in 6,873 the offenders had to face jail terms and over 1,000 licences were suspended.

A senior Delhi Police officer said checking has been intensified to curb drunken driving. “Sometimes, in the absence of a breath analyser equipment, the staff uses bare hands and makes the motorists exhale in them. This gives them a basic idea if a driver is under the influence of liquor. Though the practice may be unhygienic, it provides the personnel a way to overcome the availability of the equipment at every spot and to proceed against the violators,” he says.

The breath analyzer, however, remains the most-widely used device to nab drivers driving under the influence of liquor. The motorists are made to blow into the analyser which measures the alcohol content in their blood stream.

“We have sustained drives to screen such offenders and challan them. Usually during any such drive we carry the apparatus needed but there could be a situation where the manner in which the vehicle moves creates suspicion in the mind of the patrolling policeman or if the suspect is refusing to undergo a breath analyser test. In such situations, he or she could be asked to take a medical test where the blood sample is tested for the BAC,” said a police officer.

There have also been cases where the vehicles have been impounded. “Under no circumstances, we allow someone in an inebriated state to land in a situation potentially hazardous for them and/or others. If the accused is accompanied by another person who is sober, knows how to drive and has valid licence to drive a vehicle, we allow the vehicle to leave. If the person is all alone, we impound the vehicle and it’s only released if the court orders so,” the officer said.

Social activist Prince Singhal from the Community Against Drunken Driving says a lot still needs to be done for strict enforcement and better deterrence. “Occasional drives won’t solve the problem. The checking should be on a routine basis, especially in places close to bars and pubs.”

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