Demons on wheels | Sunday Observer

Demons on wheels

K. A. S. Priyantha now lies on a hospital bed, injured and bruised with one leg amputated below the knee. Unable to fathom the fate that has befallen him, he is dispirited and desolate.

But on January 4, the office assistant at the Sarasaviya newspaper of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. and father of one, perhaps, was in a good mood. It was to be his first working day after the New Year and he was on his way to buy sweet treats for his office colleagues when he was run over by a lorry, near Sampath Bank on D.R Wijewardena Mawatha.


K.A.S. Priyantha

The lorry laden with vegetables and fruits had crashed on to the pavement running over Priyantha and one other, later identified by the Police as 45-year-old Yahadevan Elangovan an accountant at a private firm. The accident instantaneously took the life of Elangovan while Priyantha was seriously injured requiring his leg to be amputated. At the time it was alleged that the brakes of the lorry had failed, resulting in the serious accident.

Now confirmed by the motor examiner’s report of the Department of Motor Traffic the accident is said to have been caused by a mechanical fault. According to the report, the heavy vehicle did not have a hand brake while the normal brake system was confirmed as faulty. The report blames the accident on the poor maintenance of the vehicle.

The Isuzu lorry first registered in 1989 is presumed to be around 28 years old, its age being evidence itself for its poor condition.

The recent accident has however brought to light the issue of unfit heavy vehicles on the roads of Sri Lanka. With no regulation to permanently ban unfit vehicles from the roads, old and unserviceable vehicles continue to be a threat to road safety.

According to the Chairman of the National Council for Road Safety, Dr Sisira Kodagoda heavy vehicles which are not roadworthy have become a serious problem today.

Unfit vehicles

While according to the law, heavy vehicles must obtain a fitness certificate from authorized motor garages to confirm their roadworthiness Kodagoda says however many garages provide these without proper checks and testing.

“If you give them Rs. 300 or 400 they provide fitness certificates without testing” he said, adding that therefore it defeats the purpose of the regulation.

In fact, the lorry connected to the accident had a fitness certificate issued in February 2017 by Lanka Service Station, Dankotuwa, Kochchikade which was valid at the time of the accident. However, with the results of the DMT examinations, it is now questionable as to how a fitness certificate was issued for a vehicle in such poor condition.


Dr. Sisira Kodagoda

According to Kodagoda despite laws being in place, the bad attitudes of the people make them look for loopholes while putting other road users at risk. “If these checks are done properly people would ensure the vehicles are in good condition in order to obtain the fitness certificate,” he said adding that this is not happening today.

“This is a serious issue and I have taken it up with the Department of Motor Traffic (DMT) several times,” he said, adding that however, examining vehicles for their fitness and checks by certificate issuing garages does not happen in a methodical manner.

With the DMT having only 104 motor examiners, Kodagoda says the short-staffed Department finds it difficult to check vehicles on roadworthiness as they must perform other duties as well, such as driving licence examinations, accident cause investigations, vehicle registrations, among others.

“Therefore, on the spot checks are not happening as is done in other countries,” he said adding that the Police also should stop vehicles that appear to be in bad condition and present them for DMT examiner testing. Meanwhile the Department is looking at employing 48 new motor examiners to strengthen its staff force.

According to Sri Lanka Traffic Police 3,148 motorists were charged with driving unroadworthy vehicles in 2017 while 4,729 were charged in 2016 for the same offence.

However, no regulations are in place to take these vehicles off the roads with the laws allowing them to be serviced, presented for inspection and be used once again.

But in more developed countries vehicles of a certain age are discouraged from being used. For example, all vehicles in Singapore are subjected to a period of use amounting to 10 years after which the owner is required to pay the government, to use the vehicle on the country’s roads.

According to Dr Kodagoda, discussions are ongoing to introduce a similar regulation in Sri Lanka. “It has to be introduced to maintain the quality of the environment and lessen accidents,” he said adding that old vehicles such as those involved in the accident should be taken off the roads.

Compensation

While the accident has dealt a heavy blow for the victims and their families, the court system would possibly further fail them as cases are generally dragged on for years before they can claim compensation for the damage caused.

In 2003, when an Intercity bus crashed head-on with another bus in the Thirappane area in Anuradhapura six people were killed, and scores of others injured. A former soldier, a passenger in the bus lost a leg due to the accident but had to wait for over 14 years for compensation to be declared with the case coming to a close only in 2017.

However, the Minister of Justice Thalatha Athukorala was recently quoted requesting the support of the officers of the Judicial Service Commission, Attorneys and the Police to minimize delays in court cases.

According to the Minister prompt solutions will be provided to reduce delays in court cases.

The Justice Minister noted, the government expects the Judicial Service Commission to fast-track court proceedings after all necessary facilities have been ensured.

Minister Thalatha Athukorala further said attorneys are also responsible for providing their maximum support to the general public.

With court proceedings expected to be fast-tracked in the near future, perhaps, the victims of accidents such as Priyantha may not have to suffer further anguish to obtain what is due to them. 

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