What’s needed now is strict but humane enforcement

The most shared messages and jokes on WhatsApp groups, probably after demonetisation, are about enhanced traffic penalties. To many, it is panacea to stop the daily hara-kiri on Indian roads. On the other hand, perpetual and habitual violators wonder “Why This Kolaveri Di” about exorbitant fines!

No doubt, road infrastructure in our country is not something to be proud of. However, our commuting behaviour aggravates the misery of road users manifold. Vehicles crawling at a snail’s pace in urban areas and reckless speeding on highways have resulted in an annual loss to the GDP of Rs 4 lakh crore. Also, 1.4 lakh people lose their lives and as many as 10 times more sustain injuries on our roads annually, not necessarily because of their own mistakes.

Enhancement of traffic penalties was long overdue. It’s no wonder that we are as divided on this as we are on every other issue in this country. How to hoodwink traffic police; how to contest; what to argue; and the unfairness of the move have been the essence of discussions. The narrative of “let’s not the violate rules” and not be at the receiving end is lost in the din!

It is a big challenge for police leadership to manage the stiffer-penalty regime. In a country where many, if not most, don’t hesitate to offer 50-50 solutions even when it comes to penalties as low as Rs 100, the temptations are going to be much stronger for citizens and policemen.

But high traffic penalties is only one part of the solution. For the regime to yield positive results we have no option but to move to evidence-based and contactless enforcement. And this is not possible without technologydriven enforcement. Roadside discretion in collection of fines is the root cause of corruption, altercations and even scuffles.

Citizens have a right to demand technologicallyenabled evidence, especially when penalties run into thousands of rupees. We may not achieve 100% contactless enforcement in the near future due to an incomplete and incorrect countrywide motor vehicle database. However, most metropolitan cities including Bengaluru are quite well prepared to comply with evidence-based enforcement. Enforcement of drunken-driving and speeding statutes is already 100% evidence-enabled. The old era of ‘my word’ against ‘police word’ has to end. This will promote transparency and increase respect and goodwill for traffic police.

Quality and not quantity is the essence of the new regime. Success of enforcement shouldn’t be measured by collection amounts. One needs to measure effectiveness in terms of reduced road chaos and fatalities.

The tendency of some citizens to look at enforcement and stiffer penalties as a tool of harassment and a source of revenue for police is most unfortunate. However, enforcement has to be humane and not ruthless. Unless it is used for effective deterrence, the spirit of this much-awaited and much-debated legislation will be lost.

 

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