Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why blame only cops? System needs overhaul

Hindustan Times, Chandigarh HT, 2nd October 2014

- Navdeep Asija

There is tendency to blame the traffic police for road crashes. That instant reaction is based on the fact that the police are the only department that interacts with the common people every day on roads. But, in our system, there are over 20 departments responsible for overall road safety.

We must note that our eight decade-old legal system for road safety is designed to find faults with humans, not with authorities. Besides the driver, the vehicle and surrounding environment are also responsible for road safety. Research shows that responsibility in 54-62% cases is of road infrastructure and environment, 28-34% is of faulty vehicle and design; and 8-12% human error.

Ideally, a safe road is like a mother who informs, warns, controls, guides and even forgives errant behavior. At present, our road infrastructure punishes us.

As for Chandigarh, the administration a few years ago widened spaces for rotaries along with creation of wider slip roads for smooth flow of traffic. This made dedicated fast-lane rotaries. Rotaries/traffic circles are traffic-calming devices used to slow down the traffic. So, this technically wrong move made negotiation of traffic at rotaries miserable. Thankfully, remedial steps were taken by installing speed tables and other traffic-calming measures.

As for human errors, let me cite an example. In 2012, of the 12 female accident death victims in Chandigarh, five were on scooter and died because of not wearing a helmet. Rules say helmet is not mandatory for Sikh women; but it is difficult to identify women on scooter on the basis of religion. How do you tell? I would reserve comment on such political laws related to safety. But it is high time communities too woke up against unscientific laws.

From vehicle safety to road design, planning or in execution, police are not involved in any step. In all three conditions of road crash — pre-crash, in-crash and post-crash — police have minimal role to play. The buck has to stop somewhere but certainly not only with the traffic police. Terming road crashes as 'accidents' is also wrong in a sense. The meaning of 'accident' is 'something unavoidable'. But road crash is not an act of God. Even the World Health Organization in 2004 adopted the slogan, 'Road safety is no accident'.

Kids zipping on roads is expensive vehicle is not a matter of pride. It's a shame. Songs like 'Tere liye hi toh signal tod-tad ke' reflect our society. Parents must not feel proud if their son or daughter starts driving at the age of 14-15 with a fake licence. In the case of a crash, your kid might survive but it is possible another poor mother might lose her child! At one level, rather than blaming cops, we could be thankful to them for maintaining a minimum level of road safety in our country despite limited resources.

Writer is technical adviser to Punjab State Transport Society, and founder of Ecocabs-India. Views expressed are his personal.