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Technology, not fines will deter offenders

April 10, 2007

Mumbai city’s attempts to become a clean city by levying heavier fines isn’t going too well, going by news reports. In fact, the police is promising to privatise it all to ensure enforcement. Well, promises mean nothing. We want a clean city and so far it seems like a dream. And so does a city where everyone follows traffic rules. Here too, the cops feel that the way to go is to increase fines for traffic violations.

Whats quite clear to me is that people aren’t afraid to break rules, and they aren’t afraid of the fines…because they know they may never get caught and even if they do, why, they can get away with bribing can’t they? By increasing the fines, the cops have made citizens more eager to bribe the cops.

Delhi city too has decided to impose heavy fines. The city has increased fines for breaking traffic rules across the board – now you have to pay Rs 1500 for using mobile phones while driving, Rs 600 for not wearing a seat belt, Rs 600 for unauthorized parking, Rs 900/- for speeding and Rs 2500/- for drunken driving. Sounds impressive and in fact it looked really nice in front of television cameras – Rs 17 lakh collected in just a day! IBN Live actually showed the Delhi cops taking fines and reprimanding offenders. Thats what the Mumbai police did as well. Called the press as they collected fines and forced people to sweep the roads when they littered. But that was only for the cameras. As this picture on the right shows (taken on a main road near the Bandra flyover just last week) littering continues unabated. And we aren’t just talking of toffee wrappers.

Take a look at the picture below, taken in Pune recently. Everyone ignoring the red light. Not a policemen in sight. What good will a hefty fine do?

I agree with top cop Kiran Bedi when she says that cameras, CCTVs and the latest technology is the need of the hour if offenders are to be caught. People will not argue their innocence, and cops will find it impossible to accept bribes. Traffic Security Expert Dinesh Mohan, an international traffic rules consultant who has studied traffic in Libya, Iraq and Indonesia is of the view that “better enforcement and monitoring traffic violation on roads is more important than fines.” Both these experts were speaking to IBN Live.

The good news is that in Delhi there will now be an electronic record of all violations and that means that repeat offenders will be found out. After three offences there will be stringent punishments, like suspension of licences. Mumbai too will have a similar system and perhaps then a real fear might grip the habitual offenders. That is if the offenders are caught in the first place.

Related Reading: Road accidents in India
Mumbai cops become strict about drinking and driving
Jail is scaring people into obeying traffic rules

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2007 12:34 pm

    It seems that efforts in maintaining traffic laws tend to wax and wane here in Canada. For some years, in order to deter speeders, roadside speed traps did the trick along with hefty fines. People who did not pay fines were caught in the yearly relicensing of vehicles, no new license renewal until full fines had been paid up. This seems to work quite well. The speed traps have become history here in our province. This means people tend to speed excessively. We don’t as yet have laws enacted to prevent people from talking on their cell phones while driving. I have seen men shaving in rush hour traffic with their electric razors, women applying mascara and makeup while driving. Pretty scary stuff. I would not like to have my life snuffed out by a freshly shaved man or a woman in full makeup, nor by someone carrying on at length on their cell-phone while checking their Blackberry as they drive. The recent trend to put TV screens in cars is an idiotic development.
    I see from your photo that many more people drive two-wheelers in India than do here. Are there strict licensing laws in India for two wheelers, or is there mandatory yearly insurance renewal? If so, that would make the collection of fines much smoother.

  2. April 10, 2007 1:15 pm

    That seems scary, people driving and doing all those things! In India ofcourse it wouldn’t be so easy as there are so many pedestrians, cyclists etc that one needs concentration while driving. However people do talk on cell phones.
    Overall, our licensing laws are not too strict. It is easy to get a license, its a racket,connivance between motor driving schools and government officials. And there is no mandatory yearly insurance renewal. But in any case, people aren’t even caught, so even if there is such a law, what is the use?
    We have hardly any policemen on the roads, whether its traffic policemen or the beat constables except in high security areas, when VIP’s are arriving or at important junctions etc. On sundays one sees even fewer policemen.
    This roadside speed trap is a new concept to me. What is it? Some hi-tech gizmo?

  3. April 10, 2007 5:18 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The title of the post itself defines a one-sentence solution to our traffic problems.

    1. In India the key problem is the lack of knowledge of actual traffic laws. Corruption is one reason why this is happening as people can bribe and get their driving license. Another reason is that our road traffic laws haven’t been really revisited for a long time now. They need to be amended to accommodate the the traffic scenario of the present day.
    2. Its very easy to get a two-wheeler license. In other countries, one has to have 4-5 years of driving experience before even applying for a two-wheeler license. i.e, one has to have driven a four wheeler for a long time before riding a two wheeler. This law is because of the maneuverability of a two wheeler when compared to a four wheeler. Most two wheeler drivers don’t even understand the plight of a four wheeler driver. They feel that when they overtake a vehicle, they have seen enough space to squeeze through. For a four wheeler driver, the blind spot is much bigger, so when a two wheeler overtakes on the left side, the driver may lose control over his vehicles position on the road. Many two wheeler drivers don’t understand this concept. Most two wheeler drivers think that if there is space to squeeze through then its LEGAL to drive through that space. One of my two wheeler driver friends commented “Lanes? But, aren’t they only for cars and trucks? Lanes are not for two wheelers!” This coming from a BTech software engineer. Imagine what would be case of a illiterate?
    3. All “non-register”able vehicles should be banned from the main arterial roads. By “non-register”able vehicles, I mean hand pulled rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and some of those weird contraptions engineered by the local mechanic by fixing a moped engine on a cycle rickshaw. These vehicles stall the traffic. Which will force commuters to break the lane and overtake them.

    … the list is endless. But, to solve this problem I would be looking at the following options (in this order)
    1. Educate drivers (include traffic rules as part of school syllabus, traffic violators should be asked to attend a 1 day workshop on traffic awareness)
    2. Do away with the fines. Add tickets to ur license. If you get more than 5 or 6 tickets in a year, your license will be canceled. For this to work, all licenses should be stored in a database and traffic violations should be listed here. So, that the system knows when the driver has crossed the limits of maximum tickets. In that event, take the license away from the driver and ask the driver to take a driving test.
    3. Re-visit the road plans in the cities. We don’t have to work magic. Just try to make sure that we always have one extra lane at every junction for turns. Paint the lanes properly. Place appropriate road signs everywhere.
    4. Impose ‘no-overtake’, min speed and max speed on roads.
    5. Treat a traffic violation as a crime (I would rather treat it as “deliberate attempt of murder”. Any reckless driver on the road is attempting to murder people around him)
    6. Today, as vehicles overtake each other on all sides, in the event of an accident there is no sure way to find out who hit whom. The only way is the stupid theory that the vehicle or driver with more damage or smaller vehicle is always the victim.

    … and this list also is a long one :) …… Back to the actual point of usage of technology. Sometime back, I was thinking about what would be the best way to monitor traffic violations and impose rules. My solution also was cameras and speed traps. Speed traps are set on the road sides and calculate the speed of vehicles driving past them. If it finds a car exceeding the limit, it snaps a photograph of that vehicle along with number plate and in some cases even the driver can be seen. Such cameras are placed even at signals to catch people who break the red lights and stop lines. The police don’t enter the scene. The photo is sent by post to owner of the vehicle. And they will be fined when they come back to pay their taxes or whatever.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think India can afford to have such expensive technology deployed across the country. My solution would be more raw and make-shift. There are a lot of freelance photographers in the market, the police should engage some of them to stand at some junctions on select days and just take snaps of traffic violations. From the photos the vehicle owners have to be penalized. This needn’t be a daily affair. As long as we instill the fear of getting caught in the minds of the people, 20% of our problem is solved.

    I think we can safely assume that 80% of the people out there dont want to break laws, they dont want to have anything to do with the law, police or the court. They would rather play safe than taking risks. There always will be this 20% which doesnt care about law enforcement. This 20% having high connections at political levels will continue to break the law. And till we have a political system and judicial system that is less corrupt than we have today, we cannot do anything about this 20%. But, then if we manage to get 80% of the public driving properly, i think we will be able to fix up our traffic system in a much better shape than is today!

  4. April 10, 2007 7:35 pm

    Thanks Udyams for that comment! Valuable inputs!

  5. April 10, 2007 10:36 pm

    More laws, more violations, that is the only rule which is followed without any exception.

    Root of the problem is the a century or more, old system. It is surprising hat most laws of India are of pre-independence era. I mean present laws which are enacted a hundred years ago and of course legal draftsmen could not foresee all the problems of future, and therefore out laws have many question unanswered.

    Fine or penalty is punitive method to restrain people from committing the breaches and setting example for others.

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