The year that was and lessons from it for road-users

Published : Times of India

As we enter 2010,we have two statistics : one of pride and the other of shame.That deaths on our roads declined by 15% for the second successive year is a matter to be proud of.Fatalities on roads declined from 981 to 762 in the past two years.One can attribute this collectively to civic agencies who improved road infrastructure and the traffic police for technology-driven strict enforcement.Credit should also go to citizens for their active involvement.

The second figure,that the police booked a record 26 lakh offences and collected Rs 38 crore as fine for traffic violations,is a matter of collective shame.Notwithstanding the fact that 90% of violations go unnoticed or not acted upon even now,one wonders where we are heading for.Many display a sense of victory when they break rules and go scot-free.Others have a justification or excuse for violating rules.Many follow rules because of the fear of being fined (read harassed) by police,and not because that is the right thing to do.To questions like why the police book cases during peak hours,I am at pains to explain that our road-user behaviour is at its worst when there is a crisis.Two-wheelers on footpaths,cars honking relentlessly and buses and autos breaking every possible rule of lane discipline are the salient features of peak-hour traffic.Enforcement is an integral part of traffic management even during peak hours.In haphazard traffic,a few violators gain at the expense of majority of law-abiding commuters.In orderly traffic,everyone stands to gain.
Some also question why the police book cases during lean hours when traffic is anyway moving smoothly.I remind them that most accidents take place early in the morning,late at night or during lean hours when we let our guard down.Empty roads are treated as a licence to overspeed and flout rules,which is encouraged by the absence of police.The world over,signals replace policemen.Here,they mean nothing if the men in khaki are not there to enforce rules.Many citizens genuinely feel that policemen,instead of randomly catching those who jump signals,should stand at junctions and monitor the same.It is a great thought indeed! Red means stop if a policeman is standing there;it means nothing otherwise!
A large number of citizens,well-meaning RWAs and NGOs played active and meaningful roles in improving road-user behavior.Per se,enforcement alone cannot make sustainable behavioural changes unless supplemented by long-term attitudinal ones.This is where we have been networking with citizen groups successfully to create pockets of positive change.Many want to book others for what they feel is unacceptable.A car driver finds everything wrong with two-wheeler riders or bus drivers,and vice versa.No lorry driver or two wheeler rider talks of lane discipline,just like many car drivers find nothing wrong in driving under the influence of liquor.
Poor infrastructure also adversely influences our road-user behavior.Parking violations can largely be attributed to absence of infrastructure.Ditto for lane indiscipline.How do you define lanes for two wheelers (72% of the vehicles)
Courtesy a record number of ongoing projects,there is a lot of pressure on arterial roads.Diversions and closures have become the order of the day.With many of these projects yielding fruits in 2010,we can hope for faster and better movement of traffic.However,good infrastructure puts the additional responsibility of better behavior on us.Let us not forget how the road to the international airport became a racing track in 2008,claiming 20 lives in the first month of its opening.We have to be cautious against similar consequences with the Hosur Road expressway and Outer Ring Road,which will soon have be signal-free,a term I am personally not very fond of.Demanding hundreds of speedbreakers and killing good roads is like confessing to our inability to guide ourselves.

(The writer is additional commissioner of police,traffic and security)  

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