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Public service ads don’t work but jail does!

October 6, 2007

Today on the front page of the DNA there was news that not just drunk drivers but even those using cell phones while driving (including hands-free sets) are being sent to jail, even if it is for a day. Cell phones, the Mumbai traffic police say have to switched off otherwise the driver could get into trouble. This latter part (switching off phones and handsfree sets) appeared in the longer version, in the print edition. Ofcourse this switch off rule applies in case the driver is alone.

Pretty tough eh? But as I outlined in a previous write-up, the Mumbai police are acting tough nowadays.

I thought I would publish some public service ads by the Mumbai Traffic Police here…precisely because I didn’t think their message worked…the message that drinking and driving and cell phones and driving is dangerous. What the police needed were ads showing people in jail cells! Because the fact is that no one thinks they are going to die. In fact when journalists interviewed those who were caught and put into jail, they were angry and indignant. They felt they were driving just fine! The police in fact should make a documentary showing how well-heeled people suffer in jails, the physical hardship they have to endure and the company of criminals. You don’t even have to be creative…just lay down the facts…images of goondas sharing the cell with you and the picture of the measly meal you get! Perhaps a close-up of bedbugs might work even better! And the filthy overflowing loos – an image of that is the best deterrent to anyone who has a nice clean loo at home.

Overall, spending the night in jail is a traumatic experience for most people, and very humiliating. Right now people still believe that they can get away with a bribe, but clearly, you can’t depend on that anymore!

So here the images of the ads…ads which express what the Mumbai police were trying to do nicely. All of these ads may not be running right this month, or if they are, they are in select places only. The ads are linked to the sites from where I got the images from.

Interestingly, the police have been innovative in this design. These coasters were printed using a special invisible red ink, which spreads if a customer places a glass on it (due to the moisture). The coasters were used in many bars in Mumbai.

If you want to know more about the regulations of the Mumbai traffic police you can check out their site here. But the main thing is that the law has finally got itself some teeth. Clever imagery doesn’t work. Jail has.

Update: After media criticism for putting people in jail for using cell-phones while driving (like Singapore), the Mumbai Police have clarified that it is the combination of rash driving and cell phone usage which gets people the day in jail.

I do not agree with those who feel that going to jail is too harsh a measure. Big problems need strong solutions and frankly I do admire the state of Singapore which has some tough traffic laws.
Related Reading: Reasons for road accidents in India
Law on drunk driving is being implented with all seriousness
Technology to help police in cracking down on traffic offenders

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2007 11:46 am

    I am not keeping my cell phone switched off while driving. I hope going to the side of the road and then checking your mobile is still totally legal.

    Also, is one allowed to hear a mp3 player while driving? Can one play mp3s on the mobile? How will the police distinguish? Will they act heavy handed all the time? Can one sue them for that? Safe driving is all right but picking on people wearing a hands free set and not using it is just snatching freedom of expression in the name of security.

    I think I have a right to wear a headset while driving my 2 wheeler and hear very low volume radio on it. It helps me concentrate better in all that noise and fm doesn’t consume much battery.

  2. October 6, 2007 11:50 am

    And those are really creative ads. I would much rather prefer them to jail time unless the police were being very careful about what they were doing and erring on the side of the victim and not the law.

  3. October 6, 2007 12:04 pm

    Nita: Those are wonderful ads. We have similar ads on TV where a drink too many suddenly changes a pretty girl into a car-wreck, but those coasters are altogether something else.

    All these years of living here and there, I find Indian creative work in advertising still the most funny, most hard-hitting and most memorable.

    Now whether jail works better? I think if it gives people a criminal record, then yes it would be a deterrent to many. But good enforcement is the key.

    In the UK, a criminal record is usually not given for speeding and drunk driving offences (unless someone is killed in which case, goodbye real world, hello jail!), otherwise many would not be employable. Employees esp in sectors such as finance and banking and consulting check financial solvency and police records before hiring a person…

    Thanks. Important issue, needs constant reviewing.

  4. October 6, 2007 12:30 pm

    Shefaly, actually here this criminal record thing isn’t the same as there are no national records at all, not for this offence! In fact I sure they don’t even mark all the licenses!
    True the ads are nice, good to win awards, but whats the use if people are not convinced?

    Anshul, right now the police is on an overdrive and I doubt whether they will err on the side of the victims. I think the radio is another thing as its a one-way thing. On a cell you have to have a conversation, and this implies that your brain is engaged, and this does make the driver lose concentration. This is very important in a country like India because our traffic is more unruly, anyone can appear from anywhere! At any given time one has to be alert for that sort of thing. In developed countries the traffic is fast and smooth and yet they are strict! Over there perhaps because traffic is more regulated and less, you can manage to drive okay if you lose concentration (although this is always bad!) but not here. Here concentration has to be 100 percent.

  5. October 6, 2007 12:34 pm

    Nita: In our new road rules, the following have been expressly prohibited while driving:


    Putting make-up on

    Talking to other passengers

    Listening to loud music

    Make of that what you will! 🙂 I have seen women putting mascara while crossing a busy junction…

    I am of the view that every 10 years, like in other ‘licensed’ activities, people should be hauled back in to do a test AGAIN and demonstrate they have the skills to continue to be allowed to drive..

  6. October 6, 2007 12:45 pm

    Thanks Shefaly. I guess loud music would be a distraction. Here, it is common to see young people drive around with blaring music!
    And wow, even talking is not allowed!! I can hardly believe it!!! Wow…!!

  7. October 6, 2007 2:25 pm

    I have seen so many guys on mobikes talking with a cellphone held between the ear and the shoulder…. It’s incredibly stupid to give importance to the call and not to your life.
    That said, sending a person to jail for talking on the phone while driving is extreme and impractical, too. In a country where all murderers can’t be housed in our jails because of inadequate vacancies, this seems ridiculous.
    On the rights front, this (traffic law and order) is properly a legitimate function of the State, and it is difficult to balance the rights of the individual and the right of the State to enforce laws. However, I think the police may be right here, though the law is clearly ineffective. All over the world, especially in India, drivers chat on the phone. So what use is the law here, I wonder?

  8. October 6, 2007 2:26 pm

    Rambodoc, the problem is that nothing works! Not education, not clever ads, nothing! Jail may not be ideal, but it works!!
    What other solution is there? Just recently there was this accident of a two wheeler ramming into a pedestarian. Both died. An 18 year old kid. it was sad. This pedestrian came suddenly out of nowhere…I don’t know if the driver was using a cellphone, but this is just the kind of thing that happens all over india…pedestrians come out of nowhere!
    About the law being effective, well they have to try. at least try.

  9. October 6, 2007 9:22 pm

    I have been driving for 46 years in Canada where there are stringent speeding laws, which these days are largely ignored by the bulk of the driving population. While we do not have the population pressure you have in India, we share access to the same distractions while driving – food, passenger interactions, application of make-up, men shaving with electric razors, kids thumping and bopping along to blasting music, people conducting business via cell-phones. Add to this distracted by MP3 player and cell toting pedestrians and oblivious joggers listening to music on their ear-buds.
    I must admit to having had close shaves with potential accidents whenever i was distracted by the radio or a pestering child or a disagreemnt with a passenger while driving, let alone my own tendency to wool-gather.
    A car is an implement that can inflict much damage on people, animals, property, and increasingly we are becoming awaye on the whole environment. We have an illusory belief that we can multitask with impunity, but our biological and physiological makeup runs counter to this belief.
    While the advertisements you show here Nita are certainly brilliant and would have impact on the attentive, we are too inundated with imagery to pay other than unconscious attention, sub-liminal attention to such adverts.
    This is a stuctural problem, not easily resolved – too many competing forces at work. G

  10. October 8, 2007 2:16 pm

    Nita, thanks for the wonderful post.

    For those who don’t realize the gravity of the situation, I’ll take Rambodoc’s mobike example one step further.

    In Pune, you can see motorcycle or other two-wheeler drivers holding the cell phone with one hand to the ear, and driving single-handedly…

  11. October 30, 2007 12:44 pm

    hi nita,
    you have a great blog here.
    honored to blogroll it (right away).
    and thanks for showcasing my ad design. feels nice!
    take care and regards

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