Living in the city of Hyderabad, it gets tiring to hear the constant refrain, “Hyderabadis have no road sense.” While I do not dispute that adherence traffic rules is bad in my city, I see similar behavior is almost every city and town that I have visited in India, with the possible exception of Chennai. As a people, we seem to be okay with getting out late from wherever it is that we are starting our journey, but once on the road we are desperate to make up time and get to our destination on time. This leads to our bad behavior on the roads.
The infractions are many:
- Lack of lane discipline
- Not adhering to traffic signals
- Ignoring pedestrian crossings
- Overtaking from the left
- Turning on to a road without care
- Using cell phones while driving
We can blame poor enforcement and poor road/footpath design to a large extent, but that does not absolve us of our responsibility to drive carefully.
Fines have for long been the one and only method of deterrence. We seem to believe that the threat of losing some money is sufficient to deter people from breaking road rules. But the pathetic state of traffic in the country is testament to the fact that this method is not working. In fact, it may encourage such behavior because the cost of making up time is now equated to the cost paid in fines.
The world of Formula One racing has a good way of enforcing safety rules – loss of time. Any driver making an infraction is given a drive-through penalty, which means he needs to enter and exit the pit lane without making any changes to his car. The pit lane has a speed limit that the driver has to adhere to, which loses him time on the track and usually a few positions too.
In a similar manner, drivers found to be breaking traffic rules should be given “Stop” penalties. This would require the driver to park his car for a period of 30 or 60 minutes. The punishment should require all the people in or on the vehicle at the time to stay in or on the vehicle for the duration of the penalty.
This takes money out of the transaction and uses time instead, a resource that is equally valuable to everybody since everybody gets the same amount of time each morning.