The Sunday morning hit-andrun collision on Gurgaon’s Golf Course road, allegedly caused by a vehicle coming from the wrong side, has tragically brought to focus the menace of wrong side driving in the NCR region again.
It wasn’t long ago that someone driving on the wrong side of the road surprised you in most parts of Delhi. Now, even in the national capital, it’s an epidemic. On any given day you will find a car, an auto-rickshaw or a motorcycle casually coming at you.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Stand and observe from the traffic cops’ post at the main ITO crossing for half an hour. Drivers jump red lights right in front of them. Speed devils — and there are hundreds — confuse themselves for Jason Statham in The Transporter. Rash driving and over-speeding are rampant. Driving without a helmet and “triple riding” are so common in Delhi that they have has ceased to draw attention. The situation is far worse in the satellite townships of Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad.
Delhi has never been an obedient city. But traffic rules violations weren’t so rife. If there was no willingness to follow the law earlier, there was at least a fear of the law. That is gone. What happened in the bylanes and arteries then now takes place on the Capital’s main roads.
New menaces to public safety have emerged. It is common to see people driving and chatting on the phone at the same time, even texting. You see a growing number of vehicles with videos/TVs attached for the benefit of the driver and the traveler seated next to him. Driving motorcycles, head pressed sideways to ensure that the mobile phone doesn’t slip from the shoulder, has been elevated to an art form.
Cars ensconce themselves on pavements and motorcycles careen on sidewalks. Where do the cyclists and the pedestrians go? You can find motorcyclists driving nonchalantly even on footbridges. For pedestrians, every stroll is a potentially life-threatening exercise because there is no safe place to walk.
A PTI report this January, quoting the annual report of the Delhi Traffic police, said four million people were prosecuted for traffic violations in 2016. The number had jumped scarily to six million in 2017. Over one million bikers were fined for not wearing helmets. What the statistics don’t reveal is the staggering number of violators who go unpunished.
The report also pointed out that most challans were issued for improper parking and not using seat belts, offences easier to notice and crack down on. Yet in a city notorious for ‘car-o-bar’ after sundown, only 30,301 people were booked for drunken driving!
To be fair, the traffic police have a tough job to perform. The number of vehicles in Delhi alone has vaulted 50 times since 1971, according to the same report. But solutions have failed to keep pace with the change. The quality of electronic surveillance is nowhere close to those in European countries or Singapore. Manpower remains stretched as the metropolis and its suburbs expand. Add to that the persisting problem of corruption.
There’s a general feeling among violators that you can break rules and get away. This mindset needs to be altered. Delhi Police’s proposed use of Artificial Intelligence, which would enable automatic number plate recognition cameras and radar to identify rules violators, is a vital step in this direction. Only intelligent and stringent enforcement of traffic rules will ensure safer streets for the citizenry.
The spot at Golf Course Road underpass where Sunday’s accident took place