Many an article has been written and discussion been held regarding “spot fines” in
our paradise island. In this month’s ProFile feature we have Ex DIG Traffic, Mr T.
Perimpanayagam also commenting on these so-called Spot Fines. I say so-called Spot Fines,
because they are almost always not Spot Fines at all. A Spot Fine by its’ own definition is a
fine issued (to a motorist) by a police officer on the spot where the offence was committed,
which can be paid by the motorist – without any further inconvenience.
In Sri Lanka however, the “system” is that the police officer in the first place asks for the
Driving License of the motorist and (temporarily) impounds it! According to the Motor Traffic
Act however, you only have to produce your license if a policeman asks for it. Presumably
then, the license is taken because the police are unsure that the address given on the license
is the correct current address of the motorist, and hence they may not be able to trace the
motorist thereafter! So in other words the license is kept as “security” until the fine is paid.
The next step is that the police officer issues a “Temporary License” which usually has a
validity period of about two weeks within which time the motorist has to either pay the fine or
appear in courts on the date specified on the “Temporary License”. Being a “spot fine” though,
you would think that there would be a mechanism where you could take that Temporary
License and pay the fine…? Not so easy. If you do want to pay the fine you have to take the
Temporary License to the Police Station that issued it (no matter if you live 200 km’s away)
and ask for a Spot Fine! You then have to take the Spot Fine sheet to a post office, pay the
fine and come back to the police station to collect your license. Can you do it “on the spot”?
No. Can you even do it on the same day? Not if it is a week-end!
So it’s technically not a spot fine. I think it is a process designed by somebody at some stage
to make sure that the paying of the fine itself is a major hassle. In other words it’s a process
designed to impose maximum inconvenience to motorists. The reality though, is that this
inconvenience encourages bribery, and it is almost routine that motorists pay a bribe to the
police and get away. No fine, no hassle, no revenue for the government.
So then the question arises… is this system designed and promoted by the police so that the
traffic police can earn some (extra) money?
Yes, we need discipline on our roads. And yes, we need to fine traffic offenders – not to hassle
them but to make sure that they become better road users. But if we are to achieve that, the
mindset of the police have to change from “catching” traffic offenders to “educating” traffic
offender or encouraging them to do the right thing on the roads.
A few words about going to courts to either challenge the police or to plead guilty. If you plead
guilty or the Magistrate finds you guilty and imposes a fine/sentence on you, you become an
offender until your fine is paid or sentence is served. So then the police will not let you go to
pay the fine – even if the paying counter is 50 meters away – because you are under police
custody. In fact the police could very well lock you up in a cell until the fine is paid! However
the standard practice is that you will be asked to sit on a bench overlooked by a police officer,
until someone else pays the fine on your behalf. So the bottom line is, if you are going to
courts, don’t go alone. Take a friend who should be ready to pay the fine on your behalf.
Best of all – drive carefully!