New road safetly laws round the corner, a reality check from 4 metros

How desperately do India's key cities need an overhaul of road safety and transport laws? Our reporters pan out to zoom in.

GN Bureau | October 16, 2014

Traffic rule violation manifold in Kolkata
by Puja Bhattacharjee

In 2013, 437 people died, 2,053 sustained serious injuries and 1,524 sustained minor injuries on Kolkata roads, according to the Kolkata traffic police’s annual review.

The city has seen a rise in traffic rule violation cases. It had 7,92,283 vehicles on its roads last year. In September alone, 11 people have lost their lives in road-related accidents. In most cases, pedestrians are casualties. Of those killed, most were pedestrians killed by goods-carrying vehicles. The Kolkata accident review and medical assistance (KARMA) received 2,965 calls, transported 2,434 patients and gave first-aid to 531 people in 2013.

The traffic police, meanwhile, suffers from shortage of personnel. As of December 2013, the department was short of 520 sergeants, 20 sub-inspectors, 45 assistant sub-inspectors (both armed and unarmed) and 1,930 constables. The maximum number of cases registered by the police related to rash and negligent driving, followed by defective tyres, overspeeding, and drunk driving. Last year also saw an increase in the number of traffic rule violations – the maximum since 2010.

Taxi drivers refusing passengers is another persistent problem the city faces, with 713 such complaints on the traffic police’s Facebook page alone. To counter the menace, a ‘no refusal taxi’ was introduced in December 2013. The traffic department had faced flak for issuing a notification to ban bicycle and other non-motorised traffic from 174 major locations of the city last year. Initially, it was not ratified by the state government. But it issued a fresh notification in February. The argument is that doing away with slow-moving vehicles in some areas will ensure smooth traffic flow.

Moreover, they are yet to implement a smart signal violation detection system in the city. The system by Videonetics synchronises video cameras installed at intersections with traffic lights so that image of vehicles violating signals are captured and processed. The system automatically generates a traffic compound slip that contains the violation details like location, date and time, as well as photographic evidence. In Kolkata, though the traffic police have installed hundreds of cameras at intersections, it has not integrated the system to allow automatic detection of violations.

Delhi roads are most deathly
By Pankaj Kumar

The recent death of union minister Gopinath Munde in a road accident has brought the focus back on road safety laws. Munde was in the backseat when his car hit another at a crossing. As the roads were empty early morning, both, or at least one, drivers were not mindful of the traffic light, resulting in the fatal accident.

Delhi is not only the country’s capital, but it also holds the dubious distinction of hosting the highest number of accident deaths within its borders. The city witnesses major traffic on its road network and to ensure proper movement, Delhi police has embarked upon a modernisation scheme. Under the scheme, it introduced e-challans last year. This system has  the capability to identify offenders who violate rules repeatedly and as a result the transport department can cancel the driving licence, registration certificates and permits of commercial vehicles and the licence of other repeat offenders. Almost 10,000 challans are issued in Delhi every day. In 2013, the police issued 13 lakh e-challans and sent a list of 1,968 vehicles that were violating rules repeatedly, to the transport department.

Delhi police launches massive drives on a regular basis to catch drunk drivers. The number of prosecutions in 2013, as per the police, was much higher than in 2012 and 2011. In 2013, 24,564 people were prosecuted for drunk driving. The numbers were 23,800 and 18,000, respectively, in 2012 and 2011.

According to Delhi police statistics, 1,725 people died in road accidents in 2013 – down from 1,801 such fatal mishaps in 2012 and 2,110 in 2011. Clearly, special drives and proactive policy by the police have worked well but they want more stringent laws to curb traffic violations. Senior police officers feel the new draft  bill on road safety has some innovative provisions and it will help them regulate traffic better.

“Though this is a draft and it may go to the parliamentary standing committee before becoming a law, the provisions in the bill are good. It talks of a unified policy  and, most importantly, enhanced fines that will act as a major deterrent,”  joint commisioner of Delhi traffic police Anil Shukla told Governance Now.

Unruly Delhi transport corporation (DTC) buses also pose a unique traffic problem in the city. Recently, a meeting was called by the Delhi Road Safety Council to discuss the issue of DTC buses frequently flouting lane-driving norms, overspeeding and overtaking dangerously.

Most road accidents in Mumbai
By Geetanjali Minhas

Between January and July 2014, Mumbai city recorded 309 fatal accidents. The figure was 332 during the same period in 2013, as per data provided by Mumbai traffic police. During the same period in 2014, 12,836 ‘other accidents’ took place; the number was 13,231 in 2014. 
According to a ministry of road transport and highways report, titled ‘Review of the performance of state road transport undertakings (SRTUs) for 2011-12’, among the SRTUs Maharashtra has had the highest number of road accidents (3,437), followed by Andhra Pradesh (2,473) and Tamil Nadu (1,706).

An analysis by the national crime records bureau (NCRB) in 2012 revealed that the city recorded the highest number of accident deaths in India between 2007 and 2011.

“There is a deeper and fundamental imbalance which we are not addressing. The point that we are missing out is that there is no restraint on private vehicle ownership. Perhaps, it is not part of a national policy. For example, there is no restraint on parking. Countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong are restricting parking and new cars,” said transport expert Ashok Datar. “Singapore charges 120 percent road tax when you buy a car, Shanghai has 50-90 percent tax. Smart cities are more about bicycles and walking, and not wider roads.”

Dr BK Upadhyay, joint CP, traffic, Mumbai, said that after considering all angles, the government had proposed the new road safety bill that provides for heavy fines, which would go a long way in reducing traffic offences on roads and bring better traffic management, because at present people know they can get away with a fine of '100-200. But he cautioned: “Heavy penalties and fines will result in people arguing with traffic police, and to tackle that we will need to have cameras on roads and junctions, because if a violation is caught on camera one cannot dispute it.”

Nitin Dossa, executive chairman, western India automobile association, which periodically organises courses and camps on road safety, said: “Many people generally do not obey traffic rules. Instead of imposing heavy fines we need to be stricter. I have suggested to the police commissioner that instead of fines, traffic violators should be detained and be made to sit on a bench for five hours.”

Chennai just behind Delhi in road deaths
By Shivani Gaurav Chaturvedi

The Tamil Nadu capital closely follows Delhi in road accident deaths, with as many as 846 people dying on Chennai roads by September 15 this year, according to data compiled by Chennai traffic police.

This year, 93,360 cases of overspeeding have been recorded till September 15 in Chennai city. The number of such cases was 55,457 during the same period last year.

Rash driving cases registered till September 15 this year were 14,182 (5,205 in 2013). Drunk driving cases registered till mid-September this year were 62,789 and last year the cases during the same period were 44,838.

Last year, the city witnessed a rise in hit-and-run accident cases. According to the data, in 2012, a total of 256 hit-and-run cases were registered till May while during the same period in 2013, the number of such cases was 309. The number of such cases in 2011 (data for the entire year) was 571 and in 2012, the number went up to 685.

One such high-profile case that hit the headlines last year involved Shaji Purushothaman, the 38-year-old scion of the EMPEE Group and a relative of former union cabinet minister of overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi. Purushothaman allegedly drove a car in a rash and negligent manner under the influence of liquor, resulting in the death of a 13-year-old boy and severely injuring a minor girl. The police remained in the dark for several days about his whereabouts.

“Lack of self-discipline and responsibility among young drivers are a major cause for hit-and-run cases,” said a police officer, who did not wish to be named.

Traffic police officers said they have intensified efforts to bring down drunk driving, overspeeding and rash driving cases. S Sivanandan, DCP (traffic) said, police personnel use breath analyser to nab drunk drivers. Once it is confirmed that the driver has consumed more than the permissible limit of alcohol, the personnel on duty detain the vehicle and inform the driver’s family so that they can take him/her home. The offender is required to go to one of the two mobile courts (vans on which a magistrate travels) in the city the following morning. Traffic police officers are informed and are asked to go and settle drunk driving cases in the particular area. The mobile court imposes fines and based on that, the traffic police can write to the regional transport officer concerned, suggesting suspending of the driver’s licence for six months in case of repeat offenders.



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