Thursday, November 05, 2009

HOW ABOUT AN ACCIDENT-FREE BANGALORE? LET'S JUST TRY

HOW ABOUT AN ACCIDENT-FREE BANGALORE? LET'S JUST TRY

Just what is Project Bangalore? It is an attempt by DNA to look at Bangalore's key concerns and focus on outcomes instead of highlighting problems

How can we help create a road sense in Bangalore? How can the citizens involve themselves in creating an accident-free city? DNA's Ameya Bhise and Glenn Thomas answer these questions

Ameya Bhise and Glenn Thomas



Before you jump into your SUV this morning, read this: When you are driving, drive as if you are the only wise man on the roads, and all the others are fools.
It's a saying, but it means a lot in a city where egos overtake egos, pedestrians are way down on the food chain, pavements are extensions of roads, and road rage has become the first impulse. Traffic studies in Bangalore have indicated that a very poor traffic sense prevails among city motorists, and is one of the chief contributors to the high accident rate.
About 18 per cent of all accidents in Indian cities occur in Bangalore, making it the most accident-prone location in the country. Experts feel all stakeholders — Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP), the transport department and the traffic police — should work together; the growth of vehicular population should be halted; mass transport system like the Metro rail and a better road transport system should be in place; and the police should implement traffic laws strictly.
However, while the stakeholders mentioned are all government agencies, the high accident rate on Bangalore's roads suggests that it is time for the public to also be part of the initiative to ensure an accident-free Bangalore by 2030.
It takes a lot of time for well-intended government policies to bear fruit. "For the time being, motorists have to be more cautious while driving. After all, it's their life," says a traffic police official.
The problems stare back at us. Lack of space is an important factor. The city roads are designed to accommodate only around eight lakh vehicles, but there are over 30 lakh vehicles in a city with a population of around 80 lakh.
Although we need to acknowledge that the quality of roads (at least the arterial roads) have improved vastly, and so have the traffic signal systems, the problem areas include bad lighting, unmanned junctions, and most critically, the acute shortage traffic policemen. One estimate points at just about 2,000 traffic policemen left to man a whopping 34,000 small and big junctions in the city.
Motorists' impatience, utter disregard for traffic rules, and inadequate rescue mechanisms, make a lethal recipe that has ensured a high accident rate in Bangalore.
The traffic police department, on its part, attributes the high rate of road accidents to motorist apathy and indiscipline, and more importantly, to the lack of fear of the enforcement agency, the traffic police themselves.
Under the Motor Vehicles Act, the transport department can cancel the licence of a motorist if an offence is repeated. But the rule has remained only on paper.
The city traffic police had introduced BlackBerrys to identify and come down heavily on repeat offenders. But these have remained ineffective as the traffic police don't have the database of offending motorists. "Of the 10 regional transport offices in the city, only five are computerised. So, we do not have data of all vehicles registered in the city. Till all the RTOs are computerised, it is difficult for us to identify repeat offenders and take further action," said a police officer.
But consider the result of all this mess. The vulnerable group consists of pedestrians, school children, aged people, users of non-motorised traffic, users of public transportation, and bicyclists. Traffic estimates show pedestrians account for only 16 per cent of all the trips in Bangalore but account for 40 per cent of all the fatalities and 31-37 per cent of all injuries. School children constitute approximately 8-10 per cent of total road accident fatalities.
The Pub City accounts for the highest number of drink-driving cases in India. Around 44 per cent of two wheeler riders sent for medical check-ups by the traffic police after breath tests are found to be intoxicated. During weekends there is 12-20% increase in the probability of fatal accidents in the city.
The traffic police have found that nearly 36 per cent of accidents occur between 6pm and 6am. Such a high percentage in night times is attributed to alcohol usage, fewer illuminated roads, lack of enforcement, and unavailability of ample road space with no congestion.
The traffic police registers around 15 lakh cases of traffic offences every year. This year, till October 31, they have registered 10.78 lakh cases.
Initiatives like one-ways and traffic wardens have been of little help in reducing fatalities. Although the traffic police are trying to put systems in place despite the acute shortage of manpower at its disposal, it is the motorist who throws all care to the wind, knowing full well that any negligence or carelessness on the roads could take his own life apart from that of others.
Given this dismal scenario, there is all the more reason for us, the motorists, to take up the initiative and do full justice to the old saying mentioned in the beginning of this piece.
After all, it is more important to reach your destination safely rather than rush towards it with the high risk of meeting with an accident. As any traffic police or expert would agree, taking risks is good to a certain degree in life, but a foolish proposition if it has to be on the roads where the cost could be your life itself.

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