The campaign against motorists playing Pokemon Go behind the wheel distracts from a far more important mission
Apart from the unseemly attention being paid to the latest fad, the “Pokemon No Go” crackdown launched by Bangkok police in selected city zones during certain hours is yet another example of law enforcement coming into play only in spurts. If public safety is a concern, surely the police should be protecting citizens everywhere 365 days a year.
The campaign by the Metropolitan Police is typical of the mentality governing law enforcement in this country. The idea is to ensure that the roads are safe while players of the popular new game Pokemon Go are driving around in search of virtual monsters. It immediately brings to mind the grand announcements made ahead of major holiday periods that police are about to get tough on drunk drivers and other violators of traffic laws.
Fifty police officers have been assigned to Pokemon No Go patrols, looking for drivers who are playing the game behind the wheel on 10 key roads in the central business districts. The first day they intercepted 42 people. All received fines for violating the Land Transport Act, which bars the use of mobile phones while driving.
While the authorities have to respond to abuses of an immensely popular new game played mainly outdoors, it must be noted that people are very rarely fined for talking or texting on handheld phones while driving. The crackdown on Pokemon Go ignores the fact that Thai roads were ranked among the world’s most dangerous long before this game arrived. Thirty-eight deaths per 100,000 capita per year place it in the top three countries for road fatalities.
To give credit where it’s due, Bangkok police responded quickly to a sudden rise in the number of road accidents following the game’s introduction here. But it would be preferable if they mounted campaigns that had longer-term impacts. It’s their duty to ensure that motorists and pedestrians obey the law, and this can only be done effectively through strict enforcement all year round, without fear or favour.
For now it’s a matter of gamers playing cat-and-mouse with the cops. Like the game itself, the Pokemon No Go campaign will fizzle out in time. But we need law enforcement that’s neither seasonal nor area-specific. Designating certain Bangkok streets off-limits for Pokemon Go only tells the gaming motorists that it’s okay to drive and play on the remaining roads. It would be far more helpful if motorists and pedestrians were being educated that obeying the law benefits them and everyone else, keeping the city safe and maintaining essential social order.
The current campaign also errs in covering only specific times of the day. Enforcing the law doesn’t become any less necessary in some hours rather than others. It must continue around the clock, unabated, on full alert, and without prejudice, if public faith in the police is to be maintained – and hopefully strengthened.
When a serious road accident occurs, citizens should be able to count on the police to find out who caused it and, if appropriate under the law, to bring the wrongdoer to justice. In recent years, however, we have seen the police on several memorable occasions treat guilty motorists with deference because of their wealth or perceived influence.
There are two potentially lethal highway crimes in particular requiring special attention from the authorities – speeding and drunk driving. If citizens recognise that the laws against these crimes are just and that they help prevent accidents and death, they will respect the laws more. Detaching even 50 police officers from this line of intent, to chase down game players, only undermines confidence in the law.