LAHORE   -  Chief Traffic Officer Liaqat Ali Malik has described the ongoing helmet campaign for motorcycle riders a complete success. The officer also admitted that it is “too difficult to enforce the law equally” in the metropolis where many people routinely defy even road safety rules.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, the head of the city traffic police department revealed that more than 0.7 million riders were stopped on roads for not wearing helmets during the crackdown. “At least 711,213 people have so far been ticketed for riding bikes sans helmets since the department launched the campaign in Lahore,” the CTO said. The traffic officers imposed Rs200 fine on each violator. 

The traffic police had launched the helmet wearing campaign on the orders of the Lahore High Court last year in September. The department also launched an awareness campaign before starting a massive crackdown to stop and punish the violators.

“When we started this campaign, most of the motorcyclists were riding bikes without helmets. We had to face strong resistance from many people. But, we simply ignored all criticism and continued action against the violators,” the CTO explained. 

“Now everyone rides bike in Lahore after wearing helmet. That’s really great, and we have done it just within months. This campaign was a complete success story because it reduced road accidents to a great extent, especially the incidents of head injuries dropped significantly.”

Interestingly, all the violators were treated equally. The powerful individuals including lawyers, policemen and government officers were also taken to task as they appeared on roads on bikes without helmets.

“Although it is very difficult to fully enforce any law yet it is workable. When you punish the powerful people, the ordinary citizen will automatically start following the laws,” he said. “Initially, we had planned a reasonable increase in the amount of fines so that the violators could be punished aggressively. But we decided to implement the existing laws in order to stop unnecessary criticism, the CTO said. He said the Rs200 fine was not a huge burden on the citizens but it had a huge impact.

Captain (Retired) Liaqat Ali Malik while quoting the recent reports of the Punjab Health Department and the Young Doctors Association said that the road mishaps descended drastically after the police stepped up a special campaign to enforce road safety measures. He said the incidents of head injuries decreased by 83 percent due to the successful helmet campaign.

The traffic police last year observed that violations of different traffic laws were the major cause behind fatal accidents in Lahore where at least 300 people were reported killed in road accidents in 2017.

SSP Liaqat Ali Malik, a former military who has served as field police officer in many Punjab districts, is also known for strict discipline. He has zero tolerance against corruption. During his field postings in Bahawalnagar and Jhang district, Malik awarded exemplary punishment to policemen who were found involved in corruption or misuse of powers.

The city traffic police department has been purged of corruption, he says. In recent months, dozens of corruption-tainted officials were dismissed from their services. Similarly, all traffic officers and wardens who were working on key positions for the last several years were replaced with young and energetic officers.

In Lahore, hundreds of thousands of violators are ticketed every year but still may people don’t follow the traffic laws regularly. Driving through red-lights, violation of one-way traffic, rash or careless driving, use of mobile phone while driving, and turning left from far right lane are quite common practice in Lahore. A large number of underage drivers could be seen riding on two-wheelers on city roads.

Authorities believe that a full-fledged traffic education campaign must be launched from schools to educate the new generation. The traffic control and management has become a complex issue because of lack of awareness among the masses. Rapid urbanization and record increase in the number of vehicles on roads in the recent year has also multiplied the problem.

According to officials, the unnecessary delay in construction projects is also multiplying the miseries of traffic wardens and the road users as well. More than 10 government departments are directly engaged in traffic regulations while some 15 other departments are indirectly contributing for this purpose.

“Collective efforts are needed to reform and regulate the traffic movement in big cities. We can build a better Pakistan by educating our youth. Schools are the best platform where children could be imparted training and education about traffic laws,” Liaqat Ali Malik suggested.