November 19, 2022
ISLAMABAD: Heavy-bike riders have been refused permission to ride on motorways after the Supreme Court on Friday overturned a four-year-old high court order and said the government had rightly restricted motorcyclists under a law to ensure public safety.
Headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, a three-judge Supreme Court bench allowed the appeal moved by the Ministry of Communications and the inspector general of the National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) against a decision of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued some four years ago.
In that Dec 10, 2018 verdict, the high court had ordered an improved standard operating procedure (SOP) to ride motorcycles on the motorway.
Setting aside the high court order, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, who authored the nine-page verdict, held that the motorway ban imposed on motorcycles under Section 45 of the National Highway Safety Ordinance 2000 (NHSO) was within the law and couldn’t be construed as the violation of any fundamental right to life or liberty.
Besides, this section was not challenged before IHC as being ultra vires (beyond the powers) of the Constitution or the NHSO, he wrote.
Under the section, the government may prohibit or restrict the driving of motor vehicles or of any specified class of motor vehicles in a specified area or a specified road in the interest of public safety or convenience, the judgement said.
It said that the “true purpose and exercise of powers conferred under Section 45 also encompasses the responsibility of supervision, superintendence and administration, including the power to restrict the entry of motorcyclists on motorways with the solitary cautiousness and intelligence of maintaining safety and protection vice versa”.
After the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway (M2) was constructed, the Motorway Police (now the NHMP) was empowered under the NHSO to regulate and control traffic and maintain order on national highways. Motorcycles are banned from entering M2 from day one.
The policy was reflected in Rule 202 of the Highways and Motorway Code, a government document containing road rules prepared in line with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic signed in 1968.
The only exception to the ban was 500cc motorcycles used by the Motorway Police for patrols, but this exception was also discontinued for safety reasons and the bikes were replaced by patrol cars.
On Dec 19, 2009, the Prime Minister Secretariat forwarded a request from the Lahore Bikers Club president Bhurhan M. Khan seeking permission to ride his motorcycle on the motorway. This request was denied by the NHMP on Feb 15, 2010.
But in a letter dated April 6, 2010, the NHMP decided in principle to allow 500cc and above motorcycles to run on motorways for three years, on the condition that the National Highway Authority (NHA) put in place necessary facilities, such as a separate track for motorcycles with road markings and signboards. But the bikes would be allowed on motorways only on national days for which a limited number of cards with a validity period would be issued.
This conditional permission was withdrawn due to safety reasons in view of public complaints and the lack of adherence to mutually agreed upon SOPs by motorcyclists, particularly regarding speeds — that sometimes go beyond 230 kilometres per hour — zigzag driving, sharp cuts and violating lane discipline, according to the government appeal.
On April 28, 2013, two motorcyclists were issued tickets for driving at 232km to 236km per hour.
The withdrawal of this permission was challenged in the IHC on the grounds that no restrictions could be imposed because the bikers had valid driving licences and their motorcycles were registered.
The appeal before the SC has argued that conditional permission was granted at the request of the Lahore Bikers Club as a trial and with directions to adhere to the SOP devised by the NHMP and the law.
However, it was observed that the motorcyclists violated the SOP and posed traffic hazards to other forms of traffic on the motorways. Moreover, the increased volume of traffic on motorways, the presence of only three lanes on each carriageway and no motorcycle track meant motorcyclists had a low chance of survival in case of accidents.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2022
Top court sets aside IHC order, says govt may restrict any vehicle in specified area or road to ensure public safety, convenience.