Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Great outreach, Minister of Road Transport & Highways

The tragic loss of Cabinet Minister Shri. Gopinath Munde in an urban road accident, caused by something as silly as a jumped red light, and the fact that despite having one of the lowest vehicular densities, India holds the dubious distinction of suffering the highest road fatalities in the world, brought about a change in the attitude of the Government, and is taking pragmatic steps in attempting to curb this loss of life. 

In this connection, I was really impressed by an outreach program launched by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, who have drawn up a comprehensive road safety bill, and has put the same out in the public domain and quite creditably sought inputs and suggestions from the public. Everyone must salute this outreach of the ministry and extend all support. 

As I have written before on the topic of Highway Safety in this blog, and I was hoping to also cover the aspect of Urban Traffic Safety in another article, this opportunity was a Godsend. I reproduce the mails I sent and my suggestions:

“Suggestions for the Road Transport and Safety Bill” 

Dated 14th Sepetmber, 2014

"I congratulate you in taking steps to make our roads safer. I also applaud your outreach program in seeking public opinion and thank you for this opportunity to offer my suggestions.

I would like to bring to your notice that some automobile companies seem to treat India as an unregulated third world market and resort to shoddy adaptation of their international left-hand drive vehicles before releasing them in India. Thus, in some brands of cars, among other shortcuts, the trafficator switch remains on the left, making it very confusing for people who normally drive cars which follow the Indian standard of trafficator switch on the right. In a critical situation, this may lead to accidents. India must not permit this anymore.

Further, car manufacturers also follow purely commercial considerations while deciding on the inclusion of safety features which make Indian cars quite unsafe to use as even basic safety features such as Crumple Zones, Air Bags and ABS are treated as 'luxury' features.

I request you to clearly define what constitutes an acceptable Indian automobile, with some of the minimum safety standards being recorded in an advisory and enforced strictly. Provision of 2 Air Bags, Crumple Zones, 5 Seat Belts and Trafficator on the right should be made compulsory, is my submission.

Another area of grave concern for us, is the fact that our National Highways constitute under 10% of our road length but contribute over 30% of road fatalities. Thus, just making our highways 4-laned are not making them safe, as we do not enforce any regulation of the highways to make them into safe traffic ecosystems. It is of utmost importance to urgently introduce a Highway Code that restricts access of tolled highways to certain classes of vehicles that are manufactured highway worthy, and also define lane restrictions and speed restrictions for users.

Needless to say, this has to be implemented and administered very strictly without jurisdiction constraints. Perhaps a National Highway Patrol is the need of the hour. In this area, I would recommend the study of the Malaysian model of the Highway Code and it's adaption to our country".

Thanks & regards

Dated 17th September, 2014

I had written to you with a couple of suggestions on 14/09/2014, and I write again to bring to your attention another aspect that plagues our traffic systems and renders it quite dangerous. I hope you will consider bringing in suitable changes to address the following:

Unlike in most of the developed world, driving in India is viewed as a purely technical exercise, of getting from point A to point B without causing a collision. The License testing system that is in place also emphasizes this, and no credence or focus is laid on courtesy and discipline. India is known to have the “most civilized people with the least civil drivers”, and this has got to change.

  • Never giving way to traffic on the right at an intersection,
  • Ignoring traffic lights in the absence of a constable or during off peak hours,
  • Not giving pedestrians the right-of-way even when they are using the Zebra Crossings,
  • Not giving Emergency Vehicles the right-of-way,
  • Overtaking from the left,
  • Honking needlessly and aggressively,
  • Driving on the wrong half of the road to beat a minor jam (and causing a major one),
  • Blocking intersections when stuck in a jam or in slow moving traffic,
  • Parking in a callous manner like hogging 2 parking slots or parking such as to inconvenience other road users,
  • Arguing loudly and crudely or getting physically violent when involved in an accident,
  • Ignoring lane discipline and
  • The tendency to run away after witnessing or causing an accident, especially after causing someone to be injured,

Are all unacceptable in modern civilized societies, and India must aim to become the benchmark in courteous and civil driving.

I request you to consider the introduction of a set of rules that impose a very high expectation from a road user which are tested by the RTO’s during License issue / renewal, and ruthlessly failing anyone who does not observe these courtesy rules. Perhaps we need a booklet that lists all the expectations from a driver, 

  • Including what he is expected to do when he is involved in or witnesses an accident, 
  • Who gets the primacy of road use, 
  • Incident scenarios with expected behavior mentioned thereof, 
  • Honking on the road unless it is a dire emergency, should be eliminated totally, and 
  • Every road user made to think about; and make all allowances for other users needs to be encouraged.

I do hope you will see value in this suggestion, as it will surely result in minimizing urban traffic accidents and fatalities thereof, and make driving on our roads a less dangerous and stressful exercise. I would like to mention here that changing driving behavior is a generational change, and if we bring in the rules now, we may see genuine change in 10-15 years. Let us waste no more time.

Thanks & regards,
Hemanth Sharma

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