The rogues on our roads

Do motorists need sensitisation programmes and special training modules on traffic laws? asks Nidhi Adlakha


When you get on the road, you don’t know what awaits you. Much like a game of Road Rash, you need to be alert enough to tackle everything from jaywalkers and overspeeding drivers to vehicles driving on the wrong side. And as much as I try to feature a new topic every fortnight, it seems impossible not to write about roads and pedestrian infrastructure again and again.

While issues such as the lack of continuous footpaths, walkways and foot overbridges have been highlighted in earlier columns, it is perhaps time to focus on what we, the public, are doing wrong.

Last month, the government launched the Integrated Road Accident Database (IRAD) — a central accident database management system — to help analyse the reasons behind the high accident rate and to offer safety measures. It is to be piloted in the six States with the highest road fatalities, and it isn’t surprising that Tamil Nadu features on the list. But officials needn’t look too far to analyse the reasons behind accidents.

Chennai’s report card

   •  Chennai topped the ‘Road Accident Analysis in Tamil Nadu January 2019’ report with 689 road accidents of a total of 5,173. It also had the most fatalities (114 of 993) in January. Published by the Transport and Road Safety Commissioner, Chennai, the report also highlighted that the maximum number of accidents were caused by two-wheelers: 43.94%. A far stricter procedure to issue driving licences — along with a mandatory module on traffic laws — is necessary.

Blame game

The State has always been known for its notorious drivers, lack of informed policing, drunken driving, underaged motorists, and drivers without a licence. While waiting at a traffic signal recently, I noticed a two-wheeler driver request the traffic policeman on duty to let him enter General Patters Road (one-way) from the wrong side. The cop swiftly moved a barricade to let him do so.

Scenes like these are now commonplace, and I wonder who is to blame: motorists who will do anything to find a shorter route, or officials who bend the laws to suit their convenience or pockets. Much to my father’s dismay (who spent months teaching me to drive), I rarely get behind the wheel these days as I’d rather walk or hail a cab than deal with drivers who put the lives of others at risk. I know of several others like me who choose public transport over driving through the mismanaged traffic.

Implementation woes

Every weekend, police cars are religiously stationed along roads to charge stiff penalties for drunk driving, so why not make this the norm through the week? Why are motorists who jump signals or caught speeding let off the hook so easily?

As per government data, over 60% of road fatalities across the country in 2018 were due to overspeeding.

Over the last few years, Chennai Corporation has pulled up its socks and introduced a slew of pedestrian-friendly measures: the city’s first pedestrian plaza in T. Nagar, cycling tracks and, most recently, the Mega Streets Programme. Launched earlier this week, the ₹10,000 crore project aims to develop arterial streets, create walking and cycling routes, parks, public transport nodes, and parking places, among other things.

It’s refreshing to see some effort being put into making Chennai more liveable, but like most projects, implementation and upkeep is where we fall behind. Take the pedestrian plaza at Pondy Bazaar: within three months of its launch, things are gradually slipping. We now see two-wheelers parked on the walkway, motorists driving on walkways, and many violating the one-way rule. To make matters worse, trees have been axed in places that were touted as ‘green’ zones — with residents alleging it is to keep a few shopkeepers happy.
Motorists flouting traffic laws   | Photo Credit: M. Govarthan

Citizen curriculum

How can we make things better? We need to train people to be sensitive to their surroundings and to traffic laws, or perhaps even learn a lesson or two from Singapore. As part of the Singapore Citizenship Journey programme, new citizens undergo training in a mandatory curriculum before becoming full-fledged members of society.

The Mumbai Police’s ingenious ‘Punishing Signal’ campaign is a step in the right direction. The video that went viral this month shows how officials in ‘the honking capital of the world’ connected decibel meters to traffic signals (in areas where people honk unnecessarily). If decibel levels went above 85db, the signal would restart and force motorists to wait longer.

Now, this is an initiative all our cities can definitely benefit from.