A new policy of leniency towards drivers committing minor traffic offences comes into action today in all nine of the capital's metropolitan police divisions with warning tickets replacing fines for first-time offenders. Although these citations carry no penalties, the names of wrongdoers will be entered into a traffic police database which will flag an alert if they are ever stopped for committing a similar offence. If, or more likely, when, that happens, leniency for that particular driver will be at an end and the full force of the law applied. That would also be a good time to introduce compulsory driver re-education programmes for repeat offenders.
Tough penalties still await those committing major offences such as drink-driving, speeding and dangerous overtaking. But, possibly through an oversight, jumping a red traffic light is not on the list of the 13 offences considered "major", yet parking on a footpath is. It should be obvious which of the two is more likely to cause a serious accident involving death and injury and it is not too late to make a clearer distinction between a traffic crime and an infraction causing serious inconvenience.
The scheme is the brainchild of metropolitan police chief Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit Thoopkrachang and its aim is to save the time involved in form-filling, temporary licence confiscation and trips to the local police station to pay minor fines ranging from 200 to 500 baht. It comes after a flurry of well-justified complaints about lengthy tailbacks being caused by police checkpoints which funnel vehicles into one lane. Now minor offenders will only be stopped briefly for a warning and there will be no more daytime checkpoints or threats to road safety.
This is the month when change is in the air and that applies as much to policies as to retiring senior officers being replaced by new ones eager to make an impression. It is the third year in a row that police have chosen September to launch new measures to combat a decline in driver discipline. The biggest question mark hanging over this new campaign is how long it will last. Officially it will be conducted permanently in order to facilitate traffic flow and promote good driving behaviour. But this hasn't happened in the past and previous campaigns have lacked staying power.
The failure of the demerit point system, introduced in 2002, under which points were supposed to be deducted on licences depending on the type of traffic infraction still rankles because it has worked without any problems elsewhere. It does not bode well for the new system of tracking offenders through a database reliant on paper counterfoils being submitted, keyed in and all traffic police kept in the picture and able to retrieve the information when they need it. That can and will be done in the initial stages, but how will it be sustained?
What makes this new system worth trying is that it should be able to reduce police corruption by eliminating the need for first offenders to pay fines for petty infractions. If a warning ticket carries no penalty or the inconvenience of a special trip to a police station to pay a fine, then it should also render payment of a bribe unnecessary. But if motorists face arrest for a serious offence, then the potential for bribery remains.
For certain major offences such as drink-driving, the sheer number of hungover motorists being paraded before the courts demonstrates how difficult it has become for breakers of this particular law to buy their way out of trouble. And insiders say that is not for want of trying.