September 11, 2008

Why we need more than Singapore visits?

Recently, the Bangalore traffic cops were to be sent to Singapore to learn from “one the best-managed traffic systems of the world”. They will definitely learn a lot, but we need much more than that. If you have driven on Indian roads, you will know what it is.

Roads are a great leveler – everyone driving on the road is equal – irrespective of their background, status, etc… In fact, if you are affluent, and your car shows it, this is one place where it is definitely a disadvantage. You will be always on the receiving end, irrespective of who is at fault!

Check this video on Driving in India

We need to recognize that a person’s attitude reflects in any work he/ she does – at office, home, even while driving. When we are looking for shortcuts everywhere, we will also look at ways to beat the other person on the road and reach faster. At traffic signals, it is the best. We will zig-zag across lanes to find that spot which is one meter closer to the signal than what the car behind us will get. It is like playing tetris, where you want to generate a grid without any holes in between – if there is any left, the two-wheelers and autos percolate through the grid like sand and pebbles to fill it.

When a big percentage of people driving on the road have got their license through an agent without passing the road test, we cannot expect them to even know all the rules. I am not sure how many people would have even seen the driving rule book – let alone read it. There is no point talking about lane discipline, when there may be people who genuinely do not understand what a lane means. Especially on a road without any marking, people are expected to draw imaginary lines and stick to it.

A lot has been written on the internet and the written papers on Indian driving. Everyone blames it on each other. There is sarcasm, bashing, desperation, philosophy – all emotions that you can think of – associated with such write-ups.

Is there a way out? In my view it is a two fold approach.

One is infrastructure related – I was very impressed with the comments made at two-day Bangalore Transportation Summit organized by Trans Innova and BMLTA. To quote, “What is different is lack of public accountability and absence of a concrete policy.” The suggestion to fix basic things like good street illumination, good roads without potholes and well-laid pavements is definitely a good one. Such practical and easy to implement solutions is what we need today.

The second is people. Even with the existing road condition, we can drive more sensibly and chaos would not be as much as it is today. This may sound simple, but it is the most difficult to implement – because it means that “I have to change”. Even if you had well laid out lanes, unless you and I start driving in lanes, it is of no use. The only solution then would be to put concrete dividers on the lanes! Even then we will have people jumping over it :-)

So, unless you and I change, we are still a long way to solving traffic problems on Indian roads.
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