India needs to leverage technology to make roads safer

Several modern-day equipments are getting institutionalised between the central and state administrations, many emerging mechanisms will soon see the light of the day.

Vadodara Traffic Police, red light violation detection, rlvd cameras, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2019, unique identifications, uids, 2019 Amendments act, MVA Act 2019, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Integrated Traffic Management Systems, ITMSs, Motor Vehicle Act 1988, National Register for Driving Licenses, Section 136A, LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging guns,
As per the MVA Act 2019, all state governments will now need to comply with the electronic monitoring and enforcement rules defined by the Centre.

Much like innovations in mobility and transportation across global cities, technology is helping officials solve issues of irrational road behaviour in Vadodara. Four high-resolution red-light violation detection (RLVD) cameras have been installed at major traffic junctions, which work 24×7 to monitor and report instances of speeding, racing, dangerous driving or other safety risks by capturing images of of vehicle registration plates. The images are then shared with the automation enforcement centre, which directly sends electronic challans to the traffic offenders within 7 days.

Using this contactless enforcement system, Vadodara Traffic Police issued 14,663 e-challans worth `27.55 lakh between May 5-11. In the FY 18-19, the traffic polcie collected about Rs 1.88 crore as fines and launching special payment desks to recover the remaining amount from offenders. Moreover, the traffic officials plan to either suspend licences or seize vehicles of violators with 15 or more e-challans, who haven’t cleared the dues.
Indian roads are among the world’s deadliest and apart from a strong regulatory framework, efficient systemic changes are vital to save lives. India needs to adopt Integrated Traffic Management Systems (ITMSs) or adopt initiatives like computerised testing and remote supervision of driving tests. Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, has also pointed out the significant role technology will play in combating road accidents.

With improving road safety for citizens as the essence of its mission, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2019 carries the key objectives of eliminating corruption, enabling enforcement and regulating traffic using technology.
The Motor Vehicle Act 1988 lacked a centralised database of driver’s licenses, and, hence, a nearly 30-year-old law made it possible for people to own multiple licenses authorised by different states. This allowed habitual violators to carry other driving permits even if one got suspended.

The 2019 Amendments act aims to fix this. It introduces a nation-wide integrated, digitised licensing system that will involve linking of the driving permits with unique identifications (UIDs), meaning one license per person. The section 25A focuses on establishment of the National Register for Driving Licenses which will include entries from all the state-owned registers to create a consolidated database of new authorisations or renewals of driving licenses.

This section also allows licensing authorities to identify and maintain publicised records of regular defaulters. If they are found to have broken regulations a certain number of times, the authorities have the power to suspend their driving license and disqualify them from holding any at all, until they finish a refresher training programme as specified by the central government from an accredited driving school.

Section 136A of the current amendment act addresses the huge disparity in the enforcement protocols followed across different states. While some states relied heavily on electronic implementation of the law, others only did it in limited capacity.

As per the MVA Act 2019, all state governments will now need to comply with the electronic monitoring and enforcement rules defined by the Centre. This will bring consistency in enforcement and make these initiatives more efficient and accurately measurable in term of success.

Implementing ITMSs, for instance, will help minimise congestion using intelligent cameras to track traffic movement at the busiest junctions in real-time. Use of sensor technology, automation and advanced video analytics will allow instant identification of irresponsible drivers for generating computerised penalty tickets.

These systems will not only capture a much larger number of violations than humans, but also help in maintaining electronic proofs of the fines collected. And negligible to no human involvement would mean greater accuracy, reliability and elimination of associated bribery. 15 states including some of those with the largest numbers of road crash victims—Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha and Punjab—have already adopted the e-challan systems based on integrated information technology-driven solutions.

While fully automated systems will possibly be brought to execution across all the states over the next few years, other high-tech devices like body-worn cameras, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) guns, alco-meters (breath analysers) can keep contributing towards effective and ethical enforcement.

Kerala, for example, was the third state to equip its police officials with state-of-the-art body-worn cameras. These cameras are capable of live streaming visuals even at night, using infra-red technology and can exchange voice or text messages internally. Tamil Nadu government, recently, sanctioned a project to dispense speed radar guns and breathalysers among its traffic police. The handheld and portable laser guns will capture license plate numbers of speeding vehicles, both in daylight and night to automatically send videos and pictures to the control room over 4G wireless networks. The breathalysers will be GPS-enabled and have inbuilt cameras for sending photographic evidence of the offence along with the fine.

Planning to increase road safety via technology, new-age ideas for high-end safety equipment in vehicles, automated centres for checking fitness of vehicles, speed governors to track speed limits, digital message signboards to update users about road conditions in real-time and much more are being explored.

Several modern-day equipments are getting institutionalised between the central and state administrations, many emerging mechanisms will soon see the light of the day. Technology holds the key to finding solutions that are actionable, measurable, scalable and reliable, translating into better, faster and more productive enforcement. Amidst increasing motorisation, tech-oriented policies and solutions will expand the capabilities of enforcement, bringing a positive change in the national road safety status and strengthening India’s agenda of reducing crash deaths by half, quicker than human effort alone ever will.

(The writer is Founder, HCL; Trustee, SaveLIFE Foundation)

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