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How many deaths will it take to make Delhi’s roads safer

columns Updated: Jun 08, 2014 21:53 IST
Shivani Singh

Delhi’s corridors of death were under nobody’s watch during the city’s extended witching hours last Tuesday morning when Union rural development minister Gopinath Munde was killed in a road accident. Investigations revealed that the driver of the cab that hit the minister’s car was allegedly speeding and had jumped the red light.

The traffic cops had gone home after a long day at work. Although the traffic signal at this intersection was working, in other parts of the city they are put on blinker mode after the clock strikes midnight. This is also when speed interceptors become useless metal boxes because of the dark when speedsters run amok on capital’s empty roads.

So it is not surprising that there are more or as many people dying on Delhi roads between 11 pm and 7 am as during the day hours. In the first five-and-a-half months this year, 325 people died on Delhi roads during 11 pm and 7 am. In the corresponding period last year, the toll was 371.

Top cops say that they cannot afford night patrols because of staff crunch. Almost the entire traffic police force, 6,000 of them, work on day shifts, managing traffic and issuing tickets for various violations and have in fact brought down the number of accidents in the last couple of years. But that is only during the daytime when Delhi’s eight million vehicles leave little road space for dangerous driving.

When there are special drives against drunk driving, some stay on roads till 1 am. On most days, cops are home by 10.30 in the night. Anyway, Delhi has one traffic policeman for every 1,300 vehicles. Less than 2% of the traffic policemen are there to manage traffic when Delhi’s streets seem to be the most vulnerable.

While we do need more boots on the ground, little can be done till the Delhi Police’s manpower crunch is tackled. Technology can be a substitute. Various studies, including the one conducted by the RAC Foundation in nine locations in England last year, found that speed cameras reduced the number of fatal and serious collisions by more than a quarter.

UK is the one of the two countries road minister Nitin Gadkari directed his officials to study for best practices on road safety after Munde’s death. But it is not that we never thought of technical solutions. For six years, the Delhi Police is awaiting their dream project – an IT-based Intelligent Traffic System -- with a state-of-the-art signaling system, a variable messaging system to display real-time traffic situation, CCTV coverage of roads and traffic intersections, and cameras that can detect signal, speeding and lane violations separately and function round the clock.

In these six years, planning, high-level meetings, feasibility studies and several rounds of bidding have escalated the cost of the project manifold. Mumbai and Bangalore have already taken the lead and their projects are in the final stages of implementation. Delhi Police are still waiting for fund allocation from the Union home ministry.

But surveillance and subsequent prosecution can’t be a deterrent if the fines are as low as R 100 for speeding and jumping signal that cause nearly 60% of all road fatalities in India. Following Munde's untimely death, Gadkari has promised to re-introduce the Bill to amend and increase fines for traffic violations. Passed in Rajya Sabha in 2012, the bill was pending in the Lok Sabha when it lapsed. The quantum of penalty has remained unchanged since 1988 and, if adjusted for inflation, is equal to R 18 now. We sure value life a lot more.