When it comes to road traffic accidents, the gravity of the situation in Goa cannot be understated—it is a form of violence on the road that, regardless of the cause, leads to devastating outcomes.
It’s crucial to assess whether the State is doing enough to ensure the safety of individuals who, in a tourist haven like Goa, go out to enjoy themselves and partake in alcoholic beverages. Sustainable transport systems must be in place to facilitate their safe return home. The challenge lies in breaking the inertia caused by a lack of coordination among different arms of the government and society.
To shed light on these critical issues, we’ve gathered a panel of experts who have dedicated their lives to studying road safety.
“The ongoing debate about road safety in Goa has been incessant, but the lingering question remains - who bears the responsibility for concrete action? Is it the citizens, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), activists, or the government itself?” asks Dilip Prabhudessai of MARG. “At a meeting in 2022, the Chief Minister and the Transport Minister pledged to implement measures to address the issue. What tangible steps have been taken since that meeting? It is incumbent upon the citizens to seek answers, especially in a place like Goa where the government encourages people to go out and enjoy a drink. What provisions are in place for individuals who, after consuming alcohol, need a safe and reliable means to return home?” he questions.
While the recommendations from the Supreme Court Committee on road safety have set a framework in motion, the challenge lies in implementing effective mechanisms at the grassroots level, points out Roland Martins, of GOACAN. He adds that they have been pushing a dedicated website for the traffic police system. “This platform would serve as a repository for comprehensive details on accidents, their status in the courts, and the specific talukas where they occurred. The objective is to instil a sense of responsibility among the public and facilitate a more transparent and accountable approach,” he says.
Martins points out the multitude of administrative bodies involved, including 191 panchayats, 14 municipalities, and gram panchayats. In light of the decentralised nature of these discussions, a critical need arises—to make data accessible to the public. This entails uploading information about accident cases, the availability and maintenance of breathalyser devices (alcometers) in various police stations, and the status of infrastructure like speed governors.
The availability of alcometers in police stations across Goa raises a critical concern, particularly in areas heavily frequented by tourists, such as the bustling tourist hubs in Bardez. Despite the prevalence of clubs, hotels, and nightclubs, the absence of regular nakabandi checks and alcometer tests is
“The sporadic nature of drives, often triggered by unfortunate incidents like the one in Bastarim or Vagator, does not act as a deterrent. The emphasis should be on creating a deterrent that is not reactive but regular. For instance, in tourist-centric areas like Baga, it is imperative to establish a routine weekend nakabandi check,” says Martins.
Prabhudesai laments that despite years of discussions and efforts, very little has been achieved. “We need to reassess and see where we are going wrong. Perhaps we could try something out-of-the-box for the upcoming International Film festival of India(IFFI)? A stringent approach to alcohol consumption and driving could be implemented in the vicinity of IFFI, creating a model for effective deterrence?” he suggests.
Adv Moses Pinto speaks about a critical facet of Goa’s ‘elitist’ tourism culture—the trend of groups of tourists or revellers entering the State, renting automobiles, and navigating different parts of Goa while indulging in alcohol consumption. This practice, often involving four-wheelers or scooters, unveils a concerning pattern where these revellers, unfamiliar with their alcohol tolerance levels, misjudge road conditions and make poor decisions while driving or riding.
“It's a sobering reality that what is commonly labelled as an accident is, in fact, a crime. The culpability for mishaps lies not only with the individual operating the vehicle but also with those potentially affected by their actions,” says Pinto.
The accident itself is not a mere twist of fate but an avoidable consequence of decisions made by the person behind the wheel or handlebars. As the automobile becomes a ‘machine of death’, the responsibility to prove innocence or guilt in the aftermath of an incident should squarely rest on the driver or rider, asserts Pinto.
Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act governs cases of driving under the influence. “The existing provision allows the in-charge of a police station to requisition a personal bond from an individual involved in a road crash, enabling their release within 24 hours. The prescribed bond amount, ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 rupees, fails to reflect the true value of a life lost in a road accident,” says Pinto.
The multiplier effect, as recognised by the Supreme Court, suggests that the economic worth of a person’s life and future earnings far exceeds the monetary value assigned in the existing provision. This issue becomes particularly acute when the cause of the
accident is alcohol or substance-induced driving.
“Instead of leaving the decision solely in the hands of the police station in-charge, the issuance of bail or release should be subject to judicial scrutiny. The focus should shift from assumptions about the driver’s state of inebriation to the undeniable fact that they have caused harm, injury, or loss to another person,” says Pinto, adding that he doesn't call for new legislation, but advocates for a more robust implementation of existing laws. The goal is to establish a system of checks and balances that ensures a thorough examination of each case, safeguarding both justice and the rights of drivers who may not be under the influence of alcohol.
While the spotlight often falls on drivers and their behaviour, a crucial yet overlooked aspect of road safety in Goa is the deplorable condition of its roads.
“The end of the four-lane expressway leading to Margo serves as a stark illustration of the state of neglect Goa’s roads endure. At the ongoing construction site, the absence of clear signboards or warnings about upcoming diversions is a glaring omission- I’m surprised that we don’t see more accidents due to the poorly-engineered and badly-maintained roads,” remarks Prabhudessai.
Roland Martins remarks that road infra contractors are often delivering shoddy work, and this highlights the need for proactive measures at the grassroots level. “Panchayats and Municipalities possess the necessary powers, bylaws, and regulations to intervene and ensure the quality of road engineering in their respective jurisdictions. Regardless of the classification of the road—be it a National Highway, District Highway, or Major District Road—local governance bodies have the right to halt or rectify substandard work,” says Martins.
The responsibility, however, doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of local authorities. All stakeholders, including contractors,
must be held accountable for the work they undertake.
“Extending this principle of shared responsibility, the alcohol industry also comes under scrutiny. The absence of responsible drinking campaigns or warnings by alcohol companies in Goa raises concerns, particularly during the festive season when alcohol sales surge,” added Martins.
Speaking about the dwindling efficacy of prosecution in road accident cases, where justice is often delayed, Pinto points out that the decisions made in these cases, guided by the Directorate of Prosecution which comes under the Home Department- a portfolio held by Goa CM Pramod Sawant, can inadvertently align with stakeholder interests, including those of the electorate.
Martins chimes in, pointing out that currently, the absence of comprehensive data on hit-and-run accidents in Goa, categorised taluka-wise and district-wise, poses a significant challenge in understanding the scope of the issue.
“In this context, society emerges as a crucial stakeholder. Regardless of political changes or coalition dynamics, the proactive involvement of society becomes imperative. While acknowledging the existence of litigation around these cases, the lack of widespread awareness and public discourse remains evident. Society, with its collective influence, can exert pressure on authorities to prioritise the publication of detailed hit-and-run data,” adds Martins.
Adv Pinto says concept of no-fault compensation, rooted in the idea of compensating
injured motorists swiftly and easily, regardless of fault, has been discussed for over a century.
“The no-fault compensation system suggests that, irrespective of the alleged errant driver or riders negligence, the person who suffers losses is automatically compensated by the State. The liability then falls on the third-party insurer of the errant driver or rider, as well as on the errant driver or rider personally,” explained Pinto, adding that the Supreme Court of India, in an October 2023 order, had affirmed a similar principle of
“There was a scheme to provide compensation for hit-and-run victims and the Union government revised its scheme in 2022, signalling a notable increase in compensation amounts. Specifically, compensation for death cases was raised from Rs 25,000 to Rs two lakh, while compensation for injuries saw an increase from Rs 12,500 to Rs 50,000. While Section 161 provides for interim compensation, the Supreme Court, composed of two justices, noted a critical omission in the 2022 scheme—the absence of provisions for interim compensation. The justices recommended that the Central government leverage its rule-making power to incorporate provisions for interim compensation,” noted Pinto.
Coming back to the worrisome trend of drunken driving in this tourist State that is marketed as India’s ‘Party Capital’, Pinto points out that the practice of renting cars and bikes, while positioned as a facilitator for tourists, has sparked concerns about the risks associated with enabling intoxicated individuals to operate vehicles.
“Tourism, at its core, is an invitation to explore, understand, and appreciate the rich cultural and natural heritage of a destination. Roads, with their primary function of connecting communities and facilitating travel, are not meant for pleasure-seeking or reckless behaviour,” Pinto opines.
But what of those who wish to practice hedonism at a nightclub or a casino- how do we ensure that they return to their homes or hotels safely, and without endangering those they encounter on the way?
The challenge of managing intoxicated driving among tourists is a nuanced issue, particularly in major tourism centres and world cities. Comparing the situation in places like London, New York, Los Angeles, Bombay, and Bangalore with Goa reveals a notable difference – the presence of effective app-based tourist taxi services.
In major cities worldwide, the accessibility of reliable app-based taxi services plays a pivotal role in addressing the issue of drunk driving among tourists. These services offer a convenient and efficient means of transportation, allowing individuals to call for a taxi at any time. The success of this approach lies in providing a viable alternative to driving under the influence, contributing to safer roads and responsible tourism practices.
While acknowledging the social responsibility associated with alcohol consumption, the focus here is not on discouraging drinking but rather on providing practical solutions for transportation. Recognising that tourists visiting Goa come to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, it becomes essential to offer transportation alternatives that align with responsible tourism goals.
“The concept of the designated driver, now ingrained in responsible drinking practices, has an interesting evolution rooted in campaigns against drunken driving in various cities,” says Prabhudessai.
“Cities initiated campaigns that involved flashing the names of local establishments on billboards, effectively engaging in a form of shaming for those who chose to drive under the influence. The public visibility of these efforts aimed to deter individuals from engaging in reckless behaviour and emphasised the societal disapproval of drunk driving,” he added.
Adv Pinto points out that watering holes in the West have introduced a proactive approach to curbing drunk driving by entrusting bartenders with the authority to assess a patron’s fitness to drive. “The practice involves patrons voluntarily surrendering their keys to the bartender, who then gauges signs of intoxication or impaired judgment before returning the keys,” he says.
However, in the context of places like Goa, where alternative transportation options may be limited, there emerges a need to concurrently develop infrastructure that supports responsible choices.
“From the perspective of an ordinary citizen, questions arise about the effectiveness of the traffic police, particularly the traffic constables who serve as the initial point of interaction. It prompts inquiry into whether these officers, from constables to higher-ranking officials, receive specialised training in handling cases related to drunken driving,” points out Prabhudessai.
“Are they equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to collect evidence in the aftermath of an accident or during routine stops of drivers exhibiting signs of intoxication? Moreover, is there a protocol in place for inspecting vehicles for potential evidence like bottles?” he asks.
Martins replies, stating, “Based on my own experiences with road safety campaigns, collaborating with the traffic police and transport officials made a significant impact. The presence of authorities, whether addressing seat belts, helmets, or other safety measures, resonated positively with the public. Introducing citizen involvement through initiatives like the Traffic Warden scheme could be a transformative step. By encouraging citizens to stand alongside the traffic police during nakabandis, we can enhance public participation in ensuring road safety.”
Pinto suggests a ‘scientific approach’. “A person’s body weight and the dynamics of blood alcohol content (BAC) are well-known factors. Understanding the predictable rise and fall of alcohol levels in the bloodstream over time allows for the consideration of regulatory measures. One such proposal involves issuing circulars or notifications to restrict the sale of alcoholic drinks in a rationed manner, acknowledging a limit that ensures individuals can maintain proper judgment and functionality. The suggestion here isn't for bartenders or bar owners to voluntarily limit sales; rather, it's proposed as a mandatory measure imposed by the State on excise license holders,” asserts Pinto.
To conclude, the situation in Goa seems to evoke a sense of helplessness when compared to other metropolitan cities in India and around the world. A crucial point of comparison is the lack of inherent fear among individuals in Goa regarding the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol. This contrasts with the situation in major global cities where even influential figures, including Presidents and Prime Ministers’ family members, face strict penalties for such
The absence of a strong deterrent has allowed a culture of flouting laws related to drunk driving to thrive in Goa. The key issue, as highlighted, is that individuals need to internalise the understanding that driving after consuming alcohol comes with severe consequences. This realisation should be accompanied by a fear of legal repercussions, similar to the situation in other cities globally.
Another critical aspect is the availability of alternative transportation options for those who choose not to drive after drinking. Abroad, individuals have several sustainable public transport options, reducing the reliance on personal vehicles. In Goa, the lack of an enabling infrastructure system exacerbates the problem, making it challenging to implement practical solutions.