These are Delhi’s extended witching hours. Between 11pm and 7am, speed demons, high on alcohol or adrenaline, rule the Capital’s mean streets and spill blood almost daily. At least 200 people have died on these roads during the first three months of this year during those dark hours. The toll crossed 900 in 2011.
Last week, two lives were lost to cars running over 100 km/hour. On April 10, a police constable was mowed down by a speeding Mercedes. Three nights later, a 23-year-old management student crashed into a road divider.
Late in the night, Delhi’s broad avenues also become test tracks for high-speed super cars. There are at least 8,000 such cars registered in the city. Some of them boast a top speed of 400 km/hour and can do 0-100 km/hour in three seconds.
Unfortunately, Delhi’s corridors of death are under nobody’s watch during those deadly night hours. The traffic cops go home. Signals are put on blinker mode. Speed interceptors become useless metal boxes because of the dark.
Of course, traffic cops are out there in full strength to prosecute errant drivers. They have utilised 10 mobile speed interceptors on city’s accident-prone corridors and brought down the number of fatal accidents. But that is only during daytime when Delhi’s seven million vehicles leave little space for dangerous driving.
On an average, 800 speeding tickets are issued by Delhi’s traffic cops daily. Out of these, 650 are for over-speeding, that is, if a vehicle breaks the stipulated speed limit of 60-70km/hour, depending on the location. Only 150 persons are caught for dangerous driving over 90 km/hour.
Top cops say that they cannot afford night patrols because of staff crunch. The entire traffic police force, all 5,770 of them, works on day shifts, managing traffic and issuing tickets for various violations. When there are special drives against drunk driving, some stay on roads till 1am. On most days, cops are home by 10 in the night.
Surely, a section of traffic cops can be earmarked for night vigils when killers at wheel run amok on empty roads. Even the ones kept on reserve at traffic circle offices at night can be utilised for patrolling and surprise checks on the lines of drives against drunken driving.
Technology can substitute the boots on the ground. But even here, the so-called modernisation drives have been in a limbo. The police has been talking about 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 on road, CCTV coverage of roads and traffic intersections and cameras that can detect signal, speeding and lane violations separately, and functions round the clock. But it has remained a dream for the last four years.
In these four years, planning, high-level meetings, feasibility studies and several rounds of bidding have escalated the cost of the project three folds. Mumbai and Bangalore have already taken the lead and their projects are in the final stages of implementation. Delhi’s officials are still conducting field trips.
Of course, the traffic police are promising to install the much-touted speed cameras at 70 locations within two months. These cameras, cops claim, can record vehicles for speed and photograph car number plates. While the Capital waits for the cops to deliver on yet another promise, stay indoors or hang by a prayer if you step out during those witching hours.