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In New Delhi, don't talk, don't smoke, just drive

March 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW DELHI — A court has banned smoking while driving here in India's capital in what is believed to be the first measure of its kind in any major city of the world, police said Tuesday.

The Delhi High Court also imposed other measures aimed at deterring habitually bad drivers, including a prohibition on using cellphones while behind the wheel.

"Anything that distracts the attention of the driver is dangerous. The human mind cannot do two things simultaneously," New Delhi traffic commissioner Qamar Ahmed said in welcoming Monday's ruling, which takes effect April 9.

Drivers caught smoking will pay $32, a heavy fine by local standards. Offenders cited more than five times will have their licenses revoked, the court said. The same fines apply to using a cellphone and to the less-well-defined offense of "dangerous driving."

Under the new measures, a motorist running a red light will pay $13, compared with the current $2.50.

The new penalties came in an order issued by Justices Swanter Kumar and H.R. Malhotra, who acted on their own after the death toll on the city's roads rose to more than 1,900 annually. Existing traffic laws, which have not been updated since their introduction 20 years ago, are largely ignored.

"Immense influx of light and vehicular traffic has made New Delhi roads dangerous to human life," the Times of India quoted the judges as saying. "The gravity of offenses like rash driving and red-light jumping has lost its impact because of low fines."

Traffic has steadily worsened in recent years in the capital, where more than 14 million people and 4 million vehicles jostle for space. That's despite the fact that about 2 million people commute by rail.

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