A couple of weekends ago, on a Saturday afternoon, I was driving past the Apollo Hospital on the way to the supermarket and was approaching the pedestrian crossing opposite the hospital. Traffic was moderate for Colombo, and I’m doing around 30-kmph. A pedestrian gallops across the crossing in the usual I’m-Gonna-Cross-Here-So-Stop-You-Bastards stance necessary for using such crossings in Sri Lanka — arm, umbrella, or newspaper held up to catch attention, steely determined look firmly on face, brisk pace, etc. Elvitigala Road has three lanes in each direction with a center island, and I was in the inside lane, alongside the island, driving towards Kirillapone. I always try and stop for pedestrians on crossings and so I followed procedure and slowed to a stop.
The guy crosses in front of me, and as soon as he’s clear I start to roll. Just then, I notice a young woman about to step on to the crossing, three lanes away. She’s going to take half a minute to get to me, and I’m already on the crossing, so I just keep going. She crosses unhindered behind me and goes merrily on her way. So do I — or so I think.
I’ve barely gone fifty metres when a cop appears from beneath a shady tree and crosses two lanes of traffic, making cars brake and swerve, to flag me down. Puzzled, I steer across the centre and outside lanes to the pavement. Cop leans in on the passenger side and asks me for my licence. I ask him what the problem (actually, what his problem) is. He tells me that I did the right thing in letting the male pedestrian cross, but that I had violated the road rules by driving on before the woman had crossed.
I look at him in disbelief and point out that I didn’t hinder the pedestrian in anyway and that she had crossed without any problem. He says that this is not the point, and that it’s a violation he has to book me for. Now the cop speaking to me is the most junior of three, the other two — a sergeant and a sub-inspector — are still under the shady tree, watching disinterestedly.
Junior breaks off his conversation with me to flag down two more vehicles, clearly for the same offense as mine. While I wait for his return I see random pedestrians crossing the road without the aid of any crossing, dodging between vehicles, unencumbered by the presence of the guardians of the law. A hundred metres further on is the Park Road intersection, and I watch a bus run through the red light followed by a trishaw and a motorcycle that both do U-turns and head back past the hospital. The law enforcement trio cheerfully stop a van for driving across the pedestrian crossing.
Junior comes back to my car and demands my licence once more. I ask him if he expected me to have waited while every pedestrian who strolls up to the crossing has crossed, since it isn’t a light-controlled crossing. Junior shrugs and holds out his hand for the licence. I hand it over, pointing to the intersection and the fact that a bus is cutting across three lanes of traffic to turn onto Park Road, through a red light, of course. Junior feigns interest and squints into the distance. Then he tells me that he’s there to enforce the law where he is and not where he isn’t. I ask him why he doesn’t then position himself where dangerous offenses are being committed and not where minor violations are easy to detect. I suggest that maybe the shady tree is the determining factor, and he walks off to deliver my licence to the sarge. When he returns with the charge sheet I ask him if he isn’t ashamed of himself and the disgrace he brings to his uniform. I say it loud enough to see the sub-inspector’s jaw tighten. Clearly annoyed but unsure if my lecture is actually a violation, Junior drops the charge sheet onto my passenger seat and walks off to continue fighting crime. Continue reading
So on my sixth trip down the E01, they nailed me for speeding. It was actually a bit of a relief. Like a serial killer giving up to the inevitable. And I have been speeding. Probably still will. The relief came from finally knowing how they were going to catch me. I had been told they were installing speed detecting cameras, and on my last trip down south, I even saw cops standing by the road, mostly under overpasses, aiming speed guns at me. If they were going to stop me, they would have, since I was doing variously 130kmph, 140kmph, and 150kmph when I saw them. Obviously, they saw me first. And let me go.
Mostly, I wondered how exactly they were going to stop me. Flagging me down seemed impossibly dangerous, and I didn’t think they were going to give chase. I thought I was going too fast for them to visually read my plates and radio ahead, and I doubted that they had the technology to take a high-speed photograph and upload it to cops at the exits. In the end, it proved to be a bit of both the latter two.
My first time on the E01, I stuck to the speed limit for a full ten minutes, while cars overtook me. Then I got up to 140kmph and stayed there as long as I could, except when traffic or the sight of cops slowed me down. After several trips with nothing happening to stop me speeding, I realised I was on average faster than everyone else; I overtook everything placed before me, and nothing overtook me. Going down to Unawatuna this weekend, I took the usual precautions and nothing happened. Again. Coming back, traffic was moderately heavy, and I just kept my foot planted, doing the trip in 47 minutes. My slowest is 53 minutes, my fastest 38.
When I got to the Kottawa exit last evening, I saw a cop checking number plates in front of me. I’d seen this before, but not noticed anyone being charged. This time he gave me the good new: 128kmph at the 27th mile post. Aside from that being an embarrassingly low speed to be copped for speeding (I’ve been nailed for doing 140 on Baseline Road), I wondered where the Hell the 27th mile post was. I had slowed down on spotting a parked patrol car, and hadn’t seen a speed gun, but I guess that was it.
While I was waiting my turn to have my fine sheet filled out, other offenders unrepentantly inquired from each other what speeds they had each been clocked at. 138kmph was the winner amongst the half-dozen there, the champ unjustifiably proud. I sneered. I had passed him close to the Horana exit like he was standing still.
That’s where I found out how they nailed me. The police radio kept crackling and a voice would say something like, “Vehicle HA-1242, 28th milepost, 130kmph, silver car.” The cops at the exit would then write this down. Obviously, this was happening at all the exits north of the 28th mile post. I wondered what would happen if I challenged the charge. I’m guessing that they have some sort of camera attached to the speed gun — ‘cos no way they can read a number plate going by at that speed — and this picture would be produced in court if needed.
One improvement over the old system of cops flagging you down for these violations, is you get charged at the point of exit; so I only needed to go back to Kottawa to pick up my license, and not Aluthgama or somewhere like it was before. The fine’s a thousand rupees plus a hundred-rupee stamp. I sent a three-wheel driver today with the fine to the post office, and then to Kottawa to collect my licence. He charged me 1,500 bucks. So, 2,600 all told.
Also saw an Army patrol crossing the expressway while I was doing 150kmph. I saw them three seconds before I passed them. Luckily they were still in the oncoming lanes. In my rearview mirror I glimpsed them vault the center barrier. They were carrying a small sign about a foot in diameter which said “STOP”. Probably Vijayabahu Regiment. They always were idiots.
All of my driving life, I’ve had practical cars; from the Datsun B210 Sunny I got my driving license with in 1989 to the Ford Laser I gave up last year. In between there’s been a Nissan FB14 Sunny, a Nissan Presea, a Toyota Corolla and a Toyota Corona. They were all nice, decent, reliable vehicles (OK, maybe not that Datsun). And dull as mud. None of them ever really appealed to me, or made me feel affectionate about them, except for the Presea which I drove for three years. At least the latter wasn’t as common as the others, and had a bit of a stance about it. I drove that car from Unawatuna to Trinco and from Colombo to Batti with very few complaints. But also with very few thrills. None of them were over 1.6-litre, and they were all four-door saloons with lots of boot space. The only car that stood out over that period was a bright yellow (and I mean bright) first generation Kia Rio hatch that I drove for a few months, and the less said about that the better, except that it took off from a standing start like a cat with chillie powder up its arse.
I didn’t own any of these cars, because I was determined not to own anything so mind-numbingly boring. So I rented them. The closest I came to owning one was being married to someone who owned a car. It was a Mazda 323 hatch, and I guess I owned it, technically, since it was my wife’s (and when you’re married you share everything right, especially headaches), but I liked to think of it as my car-in-law. When I got married and moved to the land of the autobahn, I was thrilled at the prospect of buying a good, solid, and fast-as-scheisse German machine. Fantasies of Audi TTs and BMW Z4s were always just wet dreams, but a surely a Golf GT wasn’t out of range? These ideas were quickly banished by my German wife’s determination to stick with a Japanese car (the sacrilege) which had better after-sales service. So as I watched little old ladies whizz past me, doing 160kmph in their Miatas, I determined never to buy a car until I could afford one I really really liked. Continue reading