ARTICLES
Becoming road-worthy

MY NRI friend was returning from London, with a British colleague in tow. To make some polite talk, I asked the first-time visitor how his drive from Delhi to Chandigarh had been. “Wonderful,” he replied, “you see, I have been an atheist all my life, but during this journey I prayed all the way through and now qualify to be a believer”.

Yes, that is what our chaotic traffic can do to most of those who come face to face with it for the first time. It is sheer providence that so many travellers survive to tell the tale. Some of our most obstinate law-breakers seem to converge on the roads everyday. In the process, they also become car-breakers and life-breakers. The casualty figures are mounting and it is no longer sensible to leave the roads open to speed junkies and lawless brigands.

Let one thing be clear. This cannot be done by the police. One, you just cannot have policemen everywhere and, two, even if that was theoretically possible, half of them can be depended on to convert their duty into a private money-making venture. It is necessary to think out of the block.

You see, there are three types of drivers on the roads. One, there are the docile, down-trodden, law-abiding citizens who are treated as the scum of the earth by others. They stick to the rules whether they are supervised or not. But seeing others defying authority with impunity, they either develop blood pressure or themselves defect to the rule-breakers’ party out of frustration.

Then there are the incorrigible ones. As long as we have VIPs and they in turn have children and relatives, any hope of disciplining this breed is out of the question.

We ought to concentrate our attention on the third category, comprising those who obey the law only when they know they are being observed. They stop at the traffic light only when there is a cop around. They wear the helmet when they detect the raiding party and take it off soon after. They ring up their friends to find out on which stretch of the road policemen are hiding themselves with speed radars. These are the sort of people who can be brought around with the help of the fear of the law.

What is needed is a bit of community policing. The police department can identify a large number of responsible, incorruptible people who do quite a bit of travelling every day. They can be assigned the responsibility of being the eyes and the ears of the police.

They should be given special cards which they can post to the police whenever they notice any traffic infringement. Supposing they find a juvenile speeding while they are out driving themselves. They will just note down the number of the vehicle as also the date and time of the infringement and send the information to the police department.

The department on its part will send a warning letter to the owner of the vehicle that he or somebody using his vehicle was found breaking the law on such and such date and at such a time. He should be advised to desist from such activity failing which action would be taken against him. This way everyone will be on his best behaviour, not knowing which of the co-drivers on the road is keeping a tab on his activities.

To make sure that nobody accuses these responsible persons of lodging false complaints, the extreme step of confiscating the driving licence or even imposing a fine could be taken only if at least five complaints are received against a person. It has been noticed that very few drivers break the law just once. They drive recklessly almost constantly and are certain to be noticed by more than one civilian invigilators.

Watch someone overtaking you from the left. Chances are that he will do exactly the same thing 2 or 3 km down the road. All such irresponsible drivers can be reined in if their victims are allowed to complain against them.

This will not at all amount to spying on fellow-citizens but will be a responsible community’s response to the few black sheep who put everyone’s life in jeopardy - including their own.

Surprise element will be strong. Whereas everyone knows which are the “safe” stretches where policemen are never to be seen, there is no guarantee which car may be having a person authorised to complain against an irresponsible driver.

This method has been applied to good effect in countries like Britain where there are spy cameras every few kilometres. Most of the time these do not even have the film in them but since the speedsters do not know which camera is working and which one is a dummy, they keep their animal instinct in leash.

Installing such cameras in India may be a costly proposition. There is no guarantee either that these would not be damaged or stolen. But community policing can not only be inexpensive but also workable. All that is needed is a change in rules and regulations so that any legal hitch can be removed.

The step can not only spare traffic policemen for other duties but also bring about a sense of participation in those asked to keep a watchful eye on the road. Habitual offenders will hate this kind of snooping but they badly deserve such a treatment.


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