Monday, July 26, 2010

WHY IS LANE DISCIPLINE SO INDISCIPLINED HERE?

WHY IS LANE DISCIPLINE SO INDISCIPLINED HERE?
Praveen Sood


Most car drivers’ persistent concern on our roads is lack of lane discipline among commuters. Ask a two-wheeler rider, autorickshaw or a bus driver, he is most likely to retort as what lane! Ironically, elite commuters have no option but to share road space with autorickshaw or two-wheeler drivers because unlike water, security and electricity, roads can’t be tailor-made exclusively for them.
In a way, our roads and traffic etiquettes have ensured equality that even the Constitution has failed to provide! Both Benz and Bajaj compete with each other for space, priority and attention. Having travelled all over the world, most of us wonder why we can’t have lane discipline as in the West. Will our drivers ever follow it?
We can’t have lane discipline without having lanes in the first place. Imaginary lanes can’t bring in discipline among commuters, whose one-point objective is to reach his/her destination ASAP, even if it means driving over footpaths, leave apart cutting lanes. Absence of wellmarked lanes, overhead information boards, poor infrastructure and the fact that most roads don’t have more than two lanes that cater to multiple modes of transport — lorries, buses, scooters, cars, autos and pedestrians — make such discipline look like a herculean task.
Driving in lanes can be based on turning direction, vehicle type or speed of travel. In most cities in the West, threefourth of vehicles on the road comprise cars and buses for which the lane is 3.5m wide. In India, where 75% vehicles consist of two-wheelers, the concept of 3.5m- wide lanes defy logic. Can we ever expect two-wheelers to stand one behind the other in 3.5m-wide lane? Or conversely, can we ever expect a two-wheeler rider not to squeeze into 1m-wide empty space on the road? Moreover, cars, being the predominant component of traffic in the West, drive at more or less uniform speed. That’s why honking is unheard of and synchronization of signals is possible.
Should vehicles, therefore, move in lanes as per their turning direction? That is — left lane for traffic turning left, and right lane for traffic turning right. In the Indian scenario, this will lead to mix of autos, cars and buses in a lane, thereby forcing a car to follow an auto as both have to turn in the same direction. Hence, cars that are underutilized even at 100kmph as well as autos that can’t move faster than 20 kmph, will be expected to share the same lane. Such paradox will make a mockery of the concept of lanes.
What if we segregate vehicles as per speed — i.e. cars in one lane, auto in other and buses in another? It would have worked well in the absence of frequent right turns. Otherwise, it can lead to total chaos as vehicles approach junctions which are usually in close proximity. In the West, one rarely turns right except at signals which are located much farther. If one has to turn right, one goes above or below by turning left. A totally different situation exists in Bangalore where closing a right turn is more difficult than plucking stars from the sky. A right turn every km is the hallmark of Bangalore roads. That is why concepts like dedicated lanes fail to take off.
While we debate to find a customized solution to lane indiscipline, there cannot be two opinions about the need to stand in respective lanes as per turning movements on the junctions. Traffic police will continue to focus on irrational driving behaviours like cutting lanes abruptly, honking and driving over footpaths through awareness campaigns and strict enforcement.

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