Amidnight SMS from a well-known woman, who works for a prestigious airline, left me totally confused.
She wrote, “I was driving at midnight when traffic cops flagged me down and insisted on a breath-analyzer test. All this despite knowing pretty well that a lady was behind the wheel. When I protested, they requested me to step out of the car for a test. The test turned out to be negative and they let me go. Why should they subject a lady to such humiliation?” I read the SMS 10 times but couldn’t decipher any element of humiliation whatsoever.
I replied, “Midnight, especially during weekends, is probably the most logical time to suspect people of drunken driving. Equal number of women and men are found to be driving under influence of liquor. Unless tested, it is not written on anyone’s face whether he or she has consumed alcohol. Testing using the alcometer is the most civilized method and asking one to step out of the car for the check is by no means humiliating.”
The woman, however, wasn’t convinced. After an exchange of a few more SMSs, I had to conclude, “Every time I pass through security check at the airport, I tell airline staff that I am not a terrorist. Still they subject me to frisking but I’ve never felt humiliated because they are just doing their duty!”
Sadly, being stopped, questioned or tested by a policeman is construed as humiliation. Many lives have been lost while trying to accelerate or dangerously taking U-turns on being flagged down by a cop. Many have argued endlessly and landed in more serious situations.
With increased awareness and enforcement, instances of drunken driving have declined drastically in the past few years. But that is no reason for not continuing these checks. That way, the chances of catching a terrorist at airport security are less than even one in a billion, but they don’t stop frisking every passenger.
Another misconception is that a policewoman is required to check alcohol content of a woman driver. Nothing can be more illogical than this because checking with a breath analyzer involves no physical contact and such checks are done in open places, in the presence of many others. Hence, expecting policewomen to be present late midnight at every corner to check women drivers is neither required by law nor practical.
What’s most disappointing are instances of non-drinkers complaining of harassment on being checked. In fact, the whole process is more for the safety of those who never drink and drive but still become victims of somebody else’s misadventure.
It will be naïve to say there is no harassment or corruption. Such instances need to be brought to the notice of senior officers even if it happens in the middle of the night. Coercive corruption, when one is being implicated wrongly, is to be dealt with an iron hand. But no law, howsoever strong, will be able to tackle collusive corruption when the intoxicated commuter is willing to do 50-50 to avoid getting into a legal situation!
(The views expressed are personal)
The writer is addl director general of police, computer wing, and commissioner for traffic & road safety.
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