Well, the public uproar is right to some extent, given that in India, we barely receive any traffic education and considering the fact that road signages are either non-existent or improper or poorly placed. Even the driving tests conducted are sub-par and more often than not are done on the basis of urgency rather than merit. There are many stories of people who have got four-wheeler licenses made even though they can barely tell a clutch apart from the accelerator. Thankfully, given that everything is now digital, the old licensing method is out.
Nitin Gadkari, the Union Transport minister, recently said that more than five lakh people die every year due to traffic violations. At the beginning of his first term, he had also said that there are many loopholes from the government's side too. These included identifying black spots on highways, proper signage as well as malfunctioning traffic signals. The government was trying to fix this. Amidst all this uncertainty, should we the tax-paying public protest or laud the government's efforts? Let's hear each side and ponder a bit.
It is very clear that the government wants to reduce the fatalities caused by road accidents. We as a community should appreciate it. At least someone woke up and realised that road safety or adhering to traffic rules is as important as having food everyday. Moreover, we go abroad and follow the traffic rules to the T because of the fear of heavy fines, imprisonment or even being deported. It is a given that most of the people will ask those who have been living in the particular country about its road manners. This presents a clear idea. How do these existing folk in those countries know about the rules? Either through experience, curriculum or it is a part of their driving tests. Well, it is just the latter. Stringent driving tests as well as a thorough knowledge of the traffic signs is a big factor for getting a driving license in foreign countries.
The stricter implementation of the rules mean that people will be forced to obey the laws. While forcing someone may not be a good thing, we understand that the government has not other alternative. In fact, we have seen even people from places like Pune and Noida (one where traffic rules are flouted as easily as breathing) obey the rules now. The usual traffic discussion is all about how one should stand behind the zebra line and come to a slow halt if the signal has turned yellow.
The aam junta was caught unawares after all this hullabaloo. When people started getting challaned for amounts more than the cost of the vehicle itself, you can imagine the discomfort or shock. Questions were raised as to how the government can suddenly implement the fines. Then more questions were raised on the infrastructure or the lack of it. The roads are poorly paved, unlit or don't even have markings. There are no speed limit warnings on the road either. Moreover, where is the education?
Express Drives went and spoke to a few road users. Shehzad Zalim, an auto driver said that now he has started wearing a uniform for the fear of getting challans. He has also started maintaining lane discipline. Mukesh Mishra, who owns a motorcycle, in the meanwhile said that he has started wearing a helmet. Rajesh Bharghav on the contrary ended up blaming the infrastructure. He said that the government should first ensure that the roads are properly lit and given the shambles that they are in, it is but natural to change lanes. There are cattle on the road as well as broken down vehicles with no hazards. All these lead to accidents. Incidentally, Rajesh wasn't wearing a seat belt when we approached him.
Thinking of the situation from both sides, we feel that the government should start traffic rules education at a much earlier stage. When the children learn, they will be able to imbibe these learning to the adults. Separate learning sessions should be introduced for these grown-ups too. Another thing that can be done is that the road signage can be improved upon plus the zebra crossings re-painted. Traffic signs or signals blocked by an overgrown branch or political banners (they should be fined heavily because no one wants to see poster PDAs) should be cleared too. Installing functional traffic signal cameras is a good way of promoting discipline.
On its part, the people should also understand that they can only cross a manned road only when the traffic light allows them to. Deliberately stopping moving cars (even when they have right of way) will lead to rising frustration amongst the drivers/riders. The Elphinstone signal in Mumbai is one prime example where once the green light is given for vehicles, you will find pedestrians jostling for crossing the road. Many a time, this leads to minor accidents as the signal is open for barely 30 seconds and the road is bumpy too. Footpaths should be utilised and if there are encroachments, they should be removed too. The thought that it is quite cool to just jaywalk should be punished and nipped in the bud.
Express Drives spoke with Rohit Baluja, president of Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE). A survey conducted by IRTE revealed that above 70 per cent of the road signages in Delhi do not conform to the required standards, in design, application and installation. The purpose of these signs are not served when not visible to the road user or deliver an alternate meaning. However, irrespective of these hindrances, the traffic police or even the CCTV camera will still hold the road user as a violator. Baluja says that it is a wrong practice to challan someone if the authorities themselves haven’t ensured that road signs are proper. Baluja believes that such non-standard signages put up by the Delhi Traffic Police like “Left turn free & Left Turn not free” are like a trap for hapless drivers to fall in. Baluja further adds that a large percentage of traffic primary signals violate the basic standards. At many junctions, the primary and secondary signals have issues of bulb failures, wrongful directional arrows etc, where the police could catch the unaware road user and then fine them because latter are unsure of what is correct and non-standard.
Before the new or let's says increased fines were implemented, the IRTE as well as the Honourable Supreme Court Committee on Road safety had written to the government to rectify the improper signage and signals. However, these went unheard and there are still many places in Delhi, for example, that have a free left option but then cops stationed over there will fine you if you do that.
All in all, we believe that having an ecosystem wherein the law enforcers as well as those who are expected to follow the law work in tandem. Fines or no fines, we as road users are expected to adhere to the rules. Be it pedestrians or even those riding and driving. At the same time, the government too has to ensure that road conditions as well as signages are proper. This is when we can become a developed nation. Something then for all of us to chew on?