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Will road safety finally get its ‘achche din ‘?

The year was 2002. I had just arrived at the Geneva railway station from Zurich with my wife and 4-year-old daughter. We were looking for a taxi to take us to the hotel, a short distance away. Surprisingly, although there was a large fleet of taxis at the station, not one wanted to take us. Reason: none of them had a ‘child’ seat! Finally, as advised by a cabby, I walked it to the hotel with my daughter, even as my wife drove off in a taxi with our baggage.

Since the laws in that country ordained that only taxis with child seats could carry children, the cabbies hadn’t budged. The incident left me in a daze—mainly because I had travelled from India where even basic laws are followed only by mistake.

A decade later, I was being driven around Florida by my brother-in-law. Since the drive was long, my daughter who sat next to me on the rear seat had grown weary, unbuckled and dozed off.

Soon enough, the cops were on us and we were not merely pulled up for the violation but booked! How did the police notice that she was not wearing her seat belt? After all there were hundreds of cars on the road. “Technology,” my relative said by way of explanation. Again, I was dumbfounded.

In India, first we do not have stringent enough laws. And even the laws we have are either not enforced effectively or are negotiable against petty bribes. This leaves me with an inescapable feeling that we do not care, even for our own lives, let alone of others. We are by nature lawless, with little respect for civic responsibilities.

From being occasional transgressors, a time came when we became habitual offenders. Now, flouting the law is seen by many as a birth right. There are a number of reasons responsible for this regression.

Despite boasting a large reserve of software professionals, we continue to remain averse to using technology for social good. In London alone there are more than 30000 closed circuit cameras scanning every inch of the city’s roads. Tech-driven policing in London and other modern cities ensures that even the smallest offences are ‘caught’ and acted upon. It also helps them manage traffic and investigate street crime with deadly efficiency.

As a spin-off benefit the police forces in cities like London collect huge amounts of money as fines, which is ploughed back into upgrading the roads and traffic systems in those cities. The Florida cops caught up with us probably because an eye in the sky had alerted them.

Every time we complain about the country’s horrible traffic safety record, there are howls of protest. “We simply don’t have a large enough force,” is an often heard peeve. But isn’t putting thousands of traffic constables on the road a dumb idea anyway? It is a sheer waste of resources when there is technology easily available that can do the job much better.

Not only would a technology air-cover help us manage traffic, discipline offenders, improve mobility and limit accidents far more effectively, it would also, to a large extent, eliminate corruption by deterring cops from letting off offenders against petty bribes. On a broader level, it would make our cities a far safer place to live in, securing us 24/7 not just from traffic abuse but from crime in general. But do we have the political will to push such a bold agenda?

Given that off all its responsibilities the foremost for an elected government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, a comprehensive revamp of our traffic regulations and systems deserves to be at the top of the new administration’s agenda. The way the Modi Sarkar has responded to the Munde mishap, there is hope that finally, road safety might be getting its Achche Din.

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