Half of Delhi uses phones while driving, but only 48 fines a day

Updated on Nov 30, 2017 10:09 AM IST
Only 48 of the 17,700 challans issued by traffic police this year till October were for using mobiles while driving; experts say even hands-free not considered safe
In the last five years, less than 10 drivers were penalised daily for using phones while driving in Delhi.(Shutterstock)
In the last five years, less than 10 drivers were penalised daily for using phones while driving in Delhi.(Shutterstock)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByShiv Sunny, New Delhi

As many as 47% respondents participating in a road safety survey in Delhi admitted to regularly making or receiving calls while driving. But police data show that the number of prosecutions for the traffic rule violation remained dismally low.

In the last five years, less than 10 drivers were penalised daily for using phones while driving in Delhi. During the same period, an average of 1,600 challans were issued daily to two-wheeler owners for not wearing helmets.

Even though the daily challans issued for using the mobile phone while driving rose this year to nearly 48 (till October 31), it is a tiny dot compared to the overall 17,700 daily prosecutions.

Curbing the use of mobile phone while driving it has not been the priority for the traffic police that cite several ‘practical problems’ in cracking down on such violators, in a city where the total number of vehicles has crossed the 10-million mark.

“It is a huge concern as half of the city’s motorists are regularly indulging in an unsafe driving practices. Using phones while driving is a big reason for crashes,” says Piyush Tewari, founder of the SaveLife Foundation (SLF), which surveyed the practice of using phones while driving.

“Drivers are using mobile phones to kill boredom, entertain themselves and for work. They are not only making or answering calls, but even type text messages and use social media while driving. Urgent solutions are needed for this new-age violation,” he said.

Chief of Delhi Traffic Police Dependra Pathak acknowledged that it was a serious problem.

“Use of mobile phones while driving greatly compromises safety and a large number of accidents take place because of it,” he said. Pathak said they have focussing on curbing the menace, which is evident from the increasing number of challans issued for the violation.

“Efficient traffic regulation, including preventing phone use while driving, is among top priorities of the police commissioner, Amulya Patnaik. We are falling back on the old method of policemen on bikes chasing and catching phone users. Besides, we will also soon get help from top quality CCTVs and body-worn cameras,” says Pathak.

◼ Number of registered vehicles in Delhi crossed one-crore mark this year
◼ A SaveLife Foundation (SLF) survey shows 47% respondents in Delhi admit to making or receiving calls while driving)
◼ Number of registered vehicles in Delhi crossed one-crore mark this year ◼ A SaveLife Foundation (SLF) survey shows 47% respondents in Delhi admit to making or receiving calls while driving)

Out on the roads, traffic policemen say they are unable to do much as unlike a helmet violation or red light jumping which can be seen from far, detecting mobile use violation is difficult and often go unnoticed until the driver zoomed past them.

“Most motorcyclists conceal the phones within their helmets,” says a traffic policeman, who is not authorised to speak to the media.

“At times, when we stop a motorist speaking over the phone, the user immediately drops the device and denies using it. Some of them lock the phone and do not let us see their call records. Others delete the call records when caught. Many others pause their conversations seeing a policeman. It’s practically impossible to prosecute most of them,” says a sub-inspector deployed in south Delhi’s Hauz Khas.

Technology has only added to the police’s woes. More and more cars are now equipped with hands-free devices, allowing drivers to continue conversations without using hands, says Tewari.

But even using a hands-free device does not mitigate the danger.

According to a study by a researcher at University of South Carolina, talking and listening on a cell phone - even without physically holding the device – distracts from driving.

Compared to merely listening, speaking or preparing to speak distracts people four times more, the research says.

“If a driver is distracted, he indulges in dangerous driving. So, whether a hands-free system is being used or an earphone is plugged in, it amounts to an offence,” Pathak said.

But traffic policemen say this is even more difficult to implement. “If we stop a driver on this suspicion, he simply says he was singing. It gets embarrassing for us,” says a policeman.

Incidentally, traffic policemen do not penalise drivers for singing while driving.

The menace continues despite the first-time offence attracting a fine of Rs 1,000 and repeat violation Rs 2,000, a penalty much higher than most other traffic offences. In addition to that, motorists lose their driving licence for three months.

“The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill of 2016 proposes a penalty of Rs 5,000 for the first offence. But it only talks about hand-held devices. Unless hands-free devices are also brought into its ambit, getting rid of this menace will be difficult,” says Dr S Velmurugan, senior principal scientist, Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI).

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