In addressing the grievance of city dwellers about excessive noise pollution from the traffic in the busy roads, the Department of Transportation Management (DoTM) in association with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office is enforcing the regulation to prohibit honking except in the emergency situations. This regulation is scheduled to be enacted in the start of Baisakh, the Nepali New Year. According to the department of transport management, any motorist acting against the regulation will be subject to penalty of NRs. 5000. Meanwhile, ambulance, fire brigade, security vans, government vehicles and tourist vehicles are exempted from this regulation.
This good intention behind the enforcement of this regulation to reduce vehicular sound pollution is quite obvious. However, the enactment of this regulation completely ignores the genuine compulsion or the root cause behind honking for motorists, while jumping into the measure of controlling the consequence (i.e., honking) regardless. Therefore, the effectiveness of this proposed regulation can be doubted as it is also bound to victimize innocent motorists and provoke unintended consequences as discussed below.
First and foremost, the regulation is clearly unconcise and obscure. While it only tolerates honking in situation of high risk of accident and emergency, it does not define the characteristics of high risk and emergency explicitly. It is not clear whether the situation of high risk only refers to the times when the motorists are sure to collide with the passer by, or it also refers to the situations when some motorists are being cautious by signaling stationary pedestrians to not cross streets while they are in considerable speed. While making such criticisms might sound picky and paranoid, a motorist traveling in the busy streets of Kathmandu clearly acknowledges coming across multiple situations that require blowing horns even if it is debatable if the situations fit as being “an emergency situation” after all.
Secondly, it is outright clear that most motorists do not honk simply to disturb the residence or contribute to the noise pollution. While exceptions exist, it is often the haphazard traffic situation in the city that compels motorists to blow horns. We all know that the grave conditions of the roads require pedestrians and vehicles to share the same pathway frequently. Thus, honking is the only method to communicate with the pedestrians to ask them to make way for motorists who are at least traveling 5 times speedier than the walkers. Likewise, lack of traffic management at cross-roads and junction require motorists to honk while passing across as a caution even during light traffics. Besides, there is hardly any other decent way to signal public buses often stopping in the middle of the road at their own ease while mischievously blocking the entire traffic. In saying so, it does not seem quite justifiable to prohibit honking when it currently is the important part of usual driving function.
Government, when identifies a potential problem, often goes for the simplest solution, i.e. to pass policies and laws targeting the end consequences that results more bad than good. The policies restrict the rights of the citizens even on conducting general activities that is not opted to cause harm to anybody. Recently, the government formulated the policy to restrict the sale of cigarettes and liquors on certain times and now it plans to ban honking. Further, it is also preparing to ban Nepalese from visiting the gulf countries. In saying so, this spree of legal bans is unintentionally encroaching on our civil liberties from all direction while it is trying to reduce certain consequences.
In conclusion, haphazard policies and regulations as such that attempts to counter the explicit end-consequences without respecting the root causes and incentives of it can often result in punishing the innocent than the culprit. Given that it is at least 40% of the time that motorists are honking for genuine purpose in the disorganized streets of Kathmandu despite it not fitting under the general understanding of being emergent, it still means that the regulation carelessly charged 40% of the innocent. Therefore, the better government strategy would be to act upon particular compelling factor for honking that would ultimately relieve motorists from honking in the first place. Enforcing Public buses to only stop at designated spaces, assuring separate commute pathways for pedestrian and traffic, and enforcing effective traffic management at junctions and cross-roads could actually be the decent efforts to organically reduce honking.
Ayushma is working as an assistant researcher at Samriddhi Foundation.