#281 Do we need traffic regulations reforms?

Most cities in India now have a compulsory rule to wear seat belts if you are sitting in the front seats of any four wheeler. Many cities also have strict rules for two-wheeler riders to wear helmets. Failure to comply with the two rules above leads to heavy fines! Heavy – mark this word.

Most cities experience a sort of rebel against the traffic authorities when safety rules like those for the seat belt and the helmet are introduced. People are reluctant to wear them. It is like smoking cigarettes. People are reluctant to follow what is in their best interest. As much as the fact that smoking cigarettes is injurious to health is true, not wearing helmets is a big risk too! Everyday newspapers in cities such as Pune, carry news of people getting badly injured or losing life because of head injuries sustained during accidents. I am not very sure how well seat belts actually protect someone driving a car, not especially in India.

In my honest opinion, compulsory rules of wearing seat belts or helmets must be scrapped. Also, all the road-side Pollution Under Control (PUC) centres in India must shut shops.

Below are the traffic regulations reforms that I propose without having any authority over them. Reading those, I believe my opinions on compulsory rules would make a little more sense.

1) Increase fine amounts from meagre Rs 100 to a heavy Rs 1000
People would just not pay so much fine, isn’t it? Understandably, there is a risk of increased corruption if the fines are too high. But there is a way to implement. In the US, fines for over-speeding range from $100 to as much as $400 or may be even beyond. That is a big pinch! The traffic authorities should increase the fines for parking in no-parking zones, over-speeding, jumping traffic signals, etc. Let the consumer move court to settle disputes. Imposing heavy fines is the first step in reducing the crimes.

2) Increase the charges for parking vehicles in public places
Rs 4 for a period of 4 hours for 2 wheelers and Rs 10 for 4 hours for 4 wheelers is definitely not the solution India is looking upto! With the exponentially growing sales of two and four wheelers, there is lesser space to drive or park the vehicles on the roads. Increasing parking charges to much higher rates would force people to think more than twice before pulling their cars out of the garage just to get bread from the supermarket. This would also promote usage of public transport – provided it is fully functional and exhaustive.

3) Fine pedestrians for jay-walking
Very funny things happen here in Pune. The signal is green for your vehicle to go ahead, and pedestrians just walk across showing their hands to stop your vehicle. This is even when the pedestrian signal is red! In India, pedestrians behave like cattle, they feel free to cross the street at whatever points they want, sometimes they even walk diagonally! Jay-walking is irrespective of the location being a pedestrian signal, or a zebra crossing or the middle of the expressway.

If vehicles can be fined, pedestrians should be fined as well. In my opinion, if a pedestrian meets with an accident in the middle of the road, the vehicle driver’s fine should be reduced to half of what he would be fined in normal circumstances. Because here the pedestrian is at fault!

4) Fine vehicles for using high-beam headlights within city limits
City roads have heavy to very heavy traffic, and in India, urban traffic is a good mix or 2, 3 and 4 wheelers. Most urban roads are 2 lane and without dividers in place. It means that the lights from the vehicles moving in opposite direction hit your eyes! This causes momentary blindness and can be a very big reason for accidents. In Pune a very large number of citizens drive their cars and ride their bikes with the high-beam headlight activated. There is no reason to do that as the traffic barely moves at 25 km/hr. In cities like Pune, you do not need to look far with a high-beam, but you do need to look down at the pot holes and for that you must have the low-beam on! IMHO, vehicles with high-beam activated within city limits should be stopped by the traffic cops and heavily fined!

5) PUC certificates are humbug! Fine vehicles if you see smoke behind them!
Like most certificates, it is very easy to get fake Pollution-Under-Control or PUC certificate for your vehicle in India. It really does not matter if your vehicle is emitting within prescribed norms. All you need is Rs 30 (less than a US dollar). With the agriculture industry being called the backbone of Indian economy, diesel has been heavily subsidised, mainly for agricultural use. A fallout of this has been that almost all car manufacturers have a diesel variant on Indian roads. In my opinion, diesel pollutes more than petrol and is more susceptible to adulteration (not confirmed). Most trucks and tempos that carry goods of small and large kinds use diesel. Many of them, and also a lot of 3 wheeler tempos and auto rickshaws adulterate petrol/diesel by adding cheaper additives. Who cares about unleaded petrol? What is CNG?

Few cities in India like Mumbai, Delhi and I do not know which others (certainly not Pune) have most 3 wheelers running with CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). CNG not only generates lesser pollution, but also drastically reduces running costs. Mumbai and Delhi also plan to move all public transport by CNG instead or petrol or diesel.

Coming back to the point of emissions. I believe that if you see smoke coming out of a vehicle’s hose, it is surely polluting! Fine it! Almost always they have valid (fake) PUC certificates and are hence let free. The traffic authorities must equip all traffic policemen with pollution emission testing kits to test such vehicles. These vehicles should be very heavily penalised.

If you are emitting black soot, you are polluting! No?

6) Do not make seat belts or helmets compulsory
Let us assume for the moment, that seat belts provide safety to the passengers in a car as much as a helmet to a bike rider. I think it is a question of personal safety to wear seat belts or helmets and traffic cops should not stop them in the middle of the road to fine them.

That being said, is not all that I want to say. If, the rider meets with an accident, he should be fined twice of the normal penalty. If a bus knocks down a two wheeler, the bus driver’s penalty should be halved if the two wheeler rider is not wearing a helmet. It should be up to the insurance companies to stop the payment of insurance money in case safety precautions were not taken. If this is put in place, I am sure people will themselves responsibly start taking care of putting on helmets and seat belts. Is that very difficult?

So if we put these regulations in place, would Indian roads become better to drive on? Would people still abuse the traffic cops?

PS: As Geetika rightly put it in the comments, traffic cops must be given better pays and more incentives. Probably their salaries should in part be commission based on the number of defaulters they give tickets to. Also, there needs to be a strict regulatory authority on top of that. Defaulters should be able to move court easily and cases must be dealt with rapid settlements. It is a whole big issue and a whole big mess. But something is better than nothing… better than those second tier contracted traffic cops who stand at the beginning of BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) routes to let only buses through the BRT corridors!!

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5 thoughts on “#281 Do we need traffic regulations reforms?

  1. Really nice post and something I feel strongly about having driven in countries other than India as well. Here are some of my comments

    Instead of making a single change to the laws, find ways to enforce existing ones. A fine of Rs. 100 is enough if it is stringently enforced. I am sure people would feel the pinch if they are regularly caught for wrongdoings and fined every time. A good incentive for cops is to give them a cut out of the fines collected. Say 50% of the amount of fines collected. This is a disincentive for corruption.

    Use technology. Things like cameras at signals to catch people breaking them. Automating the entire process would help and make people more accountable.

    Solving disputes in courts is difficult and perhaps an incentive for people to pay the fines. Nobody wants the pain of going to courts.

    Seatbelts and helmets should be compulsory. They definitely reduce the chances of injury drastically. The manner in which that is enforced is irrelevant. Wearing seatbelts/helmets should be a habit inculcated into the Indian driving culture.

    @Geetika. Higher fines still help. Paying 500 vs paying 50 to cop makes a difference to my pocket regardless of whether the government gets it. I fully agree with the commission idea though.

  2. Uh… Aditya, what garbage! I’m sorry but I don’t agree with any of these views. maybe number 3 and to a little extent number 2. But number 2 is bound to automatically happen as economics and capitalism come into play and the realization that “there’s money to be made here” dawns. Also, Jaywalking is bad and should be, can be easily enforced.

    But how do you imagine number 4 can be enforced?

    1. Well, thanks for the comments. These are my opinions and need not be the world’s opinions :)
      Secondly, I would stick to these. I am not sure how the headlights rule would be implemented, but it is not impossible. AFAIK, there was a rule many years ago to paint 20% of the side of the headlight lamp with dark colour so that the light beam would not hamper the sight of the driver of vehicles in the opposite direction. I do not know whatever happened to that rule, and if it was applicable only in Gujarat.

  3. Well, having spent an year in mumbai and obtained the taste of the traffic scenario out there, i felt temptted to this entry.
    Although there are quite a good number of things that you seemed to talk over here, especially the first four. I nonetheless had a couple of issues with the fifth and sixth one which I’m summarizing below.

    Regarding penalizing the vehicles on the basis of the black smoke, I would ratify it as a potentially good reform only if you are prepared with an explaination of quantifying the black colour of the smoke : how black is black enough to be fined.

    With no offences intended, I think I would totally disagree with point number 6 where you assert that wearing halmets and seat belts should be made a matter of personal choice, and people should be let to learn from the experience. Given that is done, you can only imagine city roads flooded with drivers having almost no halmets and seat belts like never before, even if the accidents go on rise. I mean I wonder why you should be making this point even while you are well aware of the case of cigarretes? Smokers aren’t unaware of the fact that cigarretes kill, but how many of them give it up simply after reading the statutory warning? Its the deep rooted habit that causes helplessness to follow the norm, which is true in case of drivers too.

    It is therefore the habit that needs to be checked, and since drivers in general aren’t discriminative enough, this check has to be deliberate. You say ‘If, the rider meets with an accident, he should be fined twice of the normal penalty’. Sounds like a good idea, only if the rider always stays alive, and also if the bus drivers don’t run into the risk of growing more irreponsible while driving, in addition to what most of them already are.

    It is the duty of the government to ensure all safety and security measure for its citizens, failing to do which it will only be branded as an irresponsible and careless govt. I think traffic police is only fulfilling its legitimate duty by stoping people and fining them when they don’t wear halmets or seat belts because the sad saga of the driving game is that people don’t often realize its dangers unless things happens to them. But the govt. surely can’t wait and see people dying, especially when it is known that they aren’t going to reform even when they see people meeting terrible accidents all around.

    The problem is that everybody thinks of himself as an expert driver, and that they won’t ever commit those ‘obvious’ mistakes that people who meet the accidents do.

  4. When I saw the title on your twitter, I was like, dude, this statement better be a rhetorical one :)

    The things you list happen elsewhere in the world already and will make sense – however, I always end up feeling the problem in most places in India isn’t so much about having laws as much as it is about lousy implementation.

    Increase fines for instance – so let’s see…fine used to be Rs 500, I gave the cop Rs 100 and got off. If the fine is Rs. 1000, I give him Rs. 500 and get off, I still save and he makes more. Corruption/bribery stays where it was. It’d be nicer if the cops were paid more…maybe something like a commission for each challan they issue. if the commission they get is equal or slightly more than what an average person is ready to give as bribe, they wont take it (loss ka sauda types). If it’s performance based – the more accurate challans he issues, the more performance-bonus he gets. I mean, the traffic police needs better incentives than what they’re getting as bribe. I emphasize accurate coz if the police man has too much free will to give challans and they come with monetary benefits then they will start issuing them to law abiders as well and I guess there has to be a way to walk around that bit…

    Nice post. And just as a little info pointer…dunno about other states…but speeding fine in CA starts at a minimum of $380 or so…and this is taxable so it’s actually more than that…a bigger pinch :(

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