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The traffic timebomb

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A scene in the movie Anniyan (Hindi Aparichit) has its protagonist explain how apathy is a crime that should be punished and nowhere has apathy caused more damage than the traffic situation in the country today.

That traffic offences are not even considered a crime and some aspects of violations are considered brave and manly is why we have landed ourselves in such a mess. Traffic accidents in India kill about 150,000 people each year and about 300,000 are injured, critically or otherwise.

The cost of traffic problems is estimated to be 600K crore or approximately 90 Billion Dollars. One of the reasons people do not outrage over the numbers is because a veneer of innocence is always present in the minds of people while looking at an accident. That a minimum of one person is at wilful fault and is aware of it is almost always overlooked- have you ever heard of two people travelling at 40 Kmph and dying due to a crash? Very rarely or never at all.

Now going into what the major causes of traffic problems are and how we can play a role in remediating a time bomb that could explode on all of us

a) Over speeding: One of the biggest causes of accidents and road deaths is over speeding: This coupled with almost an obsession to not maintain a distance from the vehicle ahead of you is the biggest of causes of accidents. In many cases, I have seen passengers criticize the driver for “driving too slow.” Needless to remind the reader, the violator is aware of the fact that he is speeding. The biggest worry that I have is, drivers, seem to have no provision for the mistake of the other road users and do not factor that in while hitting the pedal.

b) Illegal driving: primarily, driving on the wrong side of the road, in roads where vehicular movement is prohibited, overtaking from the left, driving on footpaths (are there footpaths in India? I thought they are mostly shops), not following other traffic rules. Here too the driver knows what he is doing something illegal and we still call it an accident.

c) Driving under the influence of alcohol or other narcotics and psychotropic substances, if crimes involving this is labelled an accident, we are a banana republic. Also, we do not have effective means to detect levels of narcotics- the breath analyser is not sufficient.

d) Inadequate policing and infrastructure: We have the one of the worst police to people ratio; the ratio of traffic policemen to people is even more pathetic. The infrastructure is non-existent. Lack of electronic surveillance and registry is a major cause of why there is no instant punishment. There is also no rapid response unit and traffic crime-busting unit with a commando element to prevent violent traffic crimes.

e) Lenient Laws: there is no criminality attached to any traffic offence and the punishments are too benign and apologetic.

f) Indiscipline and no punishment for indiscipline: Lane driving is a fiction and snakes would be envious of what some vehicles can accomplish; likewise, parking on the roads restricts the capacity of the law severely. Laws against jaywalking need to be enforced.

Now moving to the possibility of how we as a society can evolve other than obviously not committing any of these

a) Stringent punishments bordering on the draconian:
(i) Drunken driving:

1) should be prosecuted as a criminal offence and tough provisions like Section 324 and 307 of the IPC should be added to the charge sheet for cases involving accidents.

2) For cases not involving accidents, the criminality should be retained and the punishment should be compulsory imprisonment.

3) The passport should be confiscated and foreign travel should be banned during the conduct of the proceedings and should continue one year post the sentencing.

4) Also, each offence of drunken driving should involve fines of Rs.100,000 or above. only electronic fines and close supervision on personnel will ensure that there is no or limited corruption

(ii) For over speeding, disobeying traffic signals and Illegal driving including driving on the wrong side, the punishment should be as follows:

1) Immediate suspension of license.

2) Fines in excess of 10,000 for first-time offenders; fines in excess of 20,000 for repeat offenders and imprisonment.

3) For cases involving accidents, criminal prosecution is a must to deter such behaviour.

4) For jaywalking, it has to be Rs.500 for each instance.

(iii) For other modes of traffic indiscipline which will not result in direct physical harm, the punishment will have to be monetary and stringent.

1) For illegal parking, it has to be 5% the cost of the vehicle for each offence.

b) Better supervision, electronic surveillance and electronic registry.

1) Increased surveillance and improved means including better infrastructure including but not limited to cameras, drones and other such technology

2) National Electronic registry will give instant information on the vehicle, rider/driver, their past offences etc

3) Surprise checks on known spots of danger or misbehaviour

c) Employer’s responsibilities:

1) Drivers employed by companies offering transport facility must be dismissed from service for any offence

2) Employees encouraging bad behaviour will be punished in proportion to their crime up to dismissal

3) Employees indulging in Drunken driving, over speeding or illegal driving will be instantly dismissed from employment

As this is only a blog post, I have not gone in greater than is necessary; my soon to be filed PIL will address each of these problems in greater detail. There are more traffic deaths in a year in India than all deaths due to terrorism ever

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