Innovative solutions and accountability for safe roads

Thursday, 2 January 2014 - 8:26am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The government, while extremely good at announcing schemes, shies of coming through on implementation. It tends to take reactive, and not a proactive approach, to saving lives. Also, India lacks the human resource capacity to deal with road-safety issues. For a nation of 1.2 billion, we have just two people designated for road safety in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

Unless we build capacity and start using technology, we will never be able to deal with this issue effectively.

A study had found that nearly 120 million traffic violations take place at the ITO intersection in New Delhi every year. A force of 12-15,000 traffic personnel cannot cope with the sheer number of violations. This is where technology has to come in. Knowing that there are speed cameras monitoring traffic movement, and that one is being watched has played  a psychological effect on drivers’ minds.

Preventing traffic violations also requires a unique form of enforcement. In 2007, the Punjab Police in Pakistan decided to entirely replace Lahore’s ineffective traffic police with an altogether new cadre of cops. They hired English-speaking graduates from urban centres, paid them better salaries and equipped them with walkie-talkies, accident vehicle-cutting tools and first-aid kits.

This force was then deployed across the city to stop violations, prevent accidents and bring order to the city’s chaotic traffic. If a cop noticed a violation, even if it was a missing seat belt or a helmet, he would go to the offending person and in a polite but stern voice ask the person to take corrective action or else face the consequences. If the offender tried to offer a bribe, the police officer would immediately book the offender. This force has been very effective and has changed Lahore’s traffic landscape. Indian cities need to evolve similar equally effective solutions in dealing with traffic issues.

Accountability is another aspect that is sorely missing. Accidents and deaths on roads have become so frequent that we’ve stopped reacting to them. Road accidents no longer elicit public outcry. We don’t question the traffic police for not reacting when an Aston Martin driving at 120 kmph at 1.30am on Peddar road in Mumbai crashes into three vehicles. Nobody asks the local transport officials why buses fall into the Beas river year after year from the exact same spot and yet the road has no warning signs for drivers. It is convenient to lay the blame for an accident on a dead driver because he isn’t around to dispute it. Seldom do we raise questions about flaws in road engineering. Like in the case of the Bangalore-Hyderabad bus that went up in flames, killing 45 people, in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh in October. An independent study by IIT Delhi said that flawed road design at the area was one of the factors to blame. But the NHAI has issued a statement saying road design is not a problem.

This also points to a larger concern over road construction in India. A new road, anywhere in the world, has a warranty or a lifespan. If the road develops a crack, a pothole or caves in — except due to a natural disaster — within the lifespan, then the contractor repairs it at his cost. There is, therefore, no incentive to build a bad road. But in India, contractors are not held accountable. On the contrary, they have incentive to build shoddy roads because they know that they’ll get another contract to repair the same stretch they’ve built within months. If contractors know that they are entirely responsible for their roads for three years or more, we will have world-class roads at the first instance.

The writer is the co-founder of Save Life Foundation, an advocacy group that works to
improve road safety


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