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No ‘Dhoom’ for Delhi traffic cops as chase-to-challan drive runs out of steam

Instead of chasing offenders on bikes, the Delhi traffic police now use cameras to track offending vehicles’ registration numbers and send challans home.

delhi Updated: Jun 12, 2017 10:50 IST
Shiv Sunny
Shiv Sunny
Hindustan Times
Delhi news,Delhi police,challan
Traffic police figures show that compared to 34 lakh total challans issued in 2015, the number of prosecutions last year jumped up by 18%.(Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Until last year, Delhi traffic constable Amit Kumar was a regular at riding pillion during bike chases of traffic offenders. Swift and alert during the chases, few violators could get away from him without coughing up a penalty. But the job involved risking his safety and that of others.

The last time he and a head constable were involved in a chase, they nearly escaped being hurt. “When the offending biker realised he was getting caught, he tried to ram our motorcycle sideways. We were forced to call off the chase,” recalls Amit.

“Most of the traffic violators are usually bikers. As soon as they realise that they are being chased, they begin zigzagging on the roads without caring for anyone’s safety,” he said. The motorists do not even bother to slow down at speed breakers, making clear their intention to flee at all costs.

This is just one among a host of factors that has forced the traffic police leadership to make a conscious effort to go slow with the chases. The focus now is to play smarter and safer. So, while chase and challan figures have dipped from 2,400 per day on an average in 2013 to just about 500 every day last year, the overall prosecutions have risen.

Traffic police figures show that compared to 34 lakh total challans issued in 2015, the number of prosecutions last year jumped up by 18%. Till May this year, 26 lakh motorists have been booked which is almost double of the same period last year.

“As soon as someone chooses to flee despite being flagged down, the traffic policemen use wireless sets to alert the staff at the next junction, where they usually get caught. In case the motorist still manages to flee, a challan is sent to their home,” says a DCP with the traffic department.

Not that these chases on Bajaj Pulsar 200 cc bikes were ineffective. These bikers incited fear in the minds of traffic offenders. In year 2013, for example, over 2,400 motorists were being prosecuted everyday on an average after hot pursuits on the city’s roads.

But the chases posed great risks: to the daring chasers, the fleeing offenders and the innocent pedestrians or other motorists. In addition, old and poorly maintained bikes, aged and unfit traffic personnel, violent retorts by motorists and shortage of staff have forced the slowdown. So, since the last year, the traffic police have decided to go easy with their chases.

The figures speak for themselves. During its peak in the years 2013 and 2014, one in every five of the 83 lakh total challans was issued after chases. In sheer contrast, this figure stood at less than five per cent of all the 40 lakh prosecutions last year. This year so far, less than 1 lakh such chase and challans have been issued.

According to Garima Bhatnagar, Joint CP (Traffic), this is a conscious decision. “Before I assumed office in June last year, there were a few accidents during such chases. Fortunately, none of them were fatal,” says Bhatnagar about what prompted the slowdown.

Cops go slow in hot pursuit
Chase and challan numbers have decreased but enforcement of rules has also brought down deaths in accidents
    Factors which have forced police to go slow on chase and challan
  • Risk for cops, escaping violators and other motorists
  • Assault on policemen during chase
  • Old and poor-maintained motorcycles
  • Untrained and aged traffic policemen
  • Insufficient staff, few available to ride pillions
    Violations for which traffic cops are supposed to chase motorists
  • Jumping traffic signals
  • Wrong-side driving
  • Illegal lane changing
  • Triple riding
  • Riding without helmet
  • Seat belt violation
  • Tinted glass on cars
  • Chase and challan was started on February 16, 2008
  • Initially, 200 Pulsar motorcycles were pressed into service
  • Today, there are 671 motorcycles of which 570 are in service
  • These bikes are used for chase as well as taking positions on check-posts and clearing traffic

Though no official figures on such accidents were immediately provided by the police, traffic personnel on Delhi’s roads say they learn of three to five such accidents involving their colleagues every month. Fortunately, none in their memory turned fatal.

But this is not coming at a cost to road safety, insist traffic officers. On the contrary, the prosecutions have gone up and the number of fatal accidents reduced.

Traffic police figures show that compared to 34 lakh total challans issued in 2015, the number of prosecutions last year jumped up by 18 per cent. This year till May, 26 lakh motorists have been booked, almost double of the same period last year.

Noting down violators’ registration number and alerting their colleagues at next check point over wireless sets to sending challans to motorists’ homes, the traffic police are doing all to avoid the risky chases.

“Chasing was never a good idea. There are lot more safer options such as using cameras that can detect registration numbers of vehicles. The chases should be limited to the police catching more dangerous criminals who can’t be allowed to escape,” says Rohit Baluja, head of Institute of Road Traffic Education.

Forget chasing, traffic cops say they are now wary of even trying to forcibly stop fleeing motorists. “We have a close shave with fleeing vehicles every few days just because the offenders choose not to stop despite our signal. Our colleagues have died in the past. So, we prefer just to note down the address and send challans to their homes,” says constable Amit.

Chasing speeding vehicles was always a risky affair, say experts. Maxwell Pereira, former top traffic cop, says chases are anyway not feasible in a city where maximum speed of vehicles during peak rush hours does not exceed 10 km/hr.

“There are a lot of things going against chases and very few in favour of it. Chasing and prosecuting traffic offenders should be limited to highways with little traffic, not on the busy streets of the city,” said Pereira, adding the police must rely on cameras that can track offending vehicles’ registration numbers.

Pereira agrees that the initiative was effective in putting fear in the minds of traffic violators. “It sent a solid message to the offenders. But it has to be abandoned because the dangers are not worth the chases and prosecutions,” Pereira adds.

But the risks are not limited to accidents. Often, traffic policemen say, the offenders choose narrow streets either to escape or to lure the chasing team to crowded and often ‘dangerous’ localities.

“Generally we avoid venturing into such localities, but once I decided to chase the biker into Geeta Colony. The biker, however, had gathered a group of men who threatened to attack me,” says a head constable who did not want to be identified.

Lone traffic policemen being lured into hostile localities before being attacked or violators entering into heated exchange over coughing up the challan amount are not uncommon, says Bhatnagar.

Traffic police’s new measures, such as seizing driving licenses, have added to the desperation among offending motorists. “Since a lot of these chases involved motorists who have jumped red lights, the desperation to escape is even greater now since they stand to forfeit their driving license for three months,” says head constable Liyakat Ali.

Policemen appear wary of these chases. “These motorists are not murderers that they need to be caught under any condition. If they escape today, they will be caught another day. But if something happens to us or even to the motorist in his bid to escape, it is not worth it,” says ASI Vikas Singh, who has been involved in chases in the past.

Safety issues apart, a host of other factors have added to the traffic police’s decision to reduce the chases. Despite being in the power range of 180-200 cc, most of the motorcycles with the traffic police are old and not well-maintained to inspire confidence during chases.

The staff shortage and the age of the policemen permitted to chase is an important factor too. “Since only head constables and above can issue challans, the average age of these chasers is high and there are fewer eligible personnel,” says Bhatnagar. They may not be fully fit for these chases and their reflexes may have slowed down.

Interestingly, despite the skills required to negotiate Delhi’s traffic during such risky chases, there is no special or specific training imparted to these policemen before they are tasked with the chases.

Those considered good bike riders and possessing a valid driving license are tasked with these chases. Many of their bikes are modified to give them advantage during chases, but that is apparently not enough.

First Published: Jun 12, 2017 10:39 IST