Traffic is a monstrous challenge in India. With the continuous increase in pollution levels, we recently surpassed China in air pollution deaths. According to the latest figures of green tribunal, around 1.2 million people die every year due to air pollution. Moreover, 573,000 of them are prematurely born babies.
Closure of schools and the imposition of odd-even rule in the national capital point to the severity of the problem. It is a distressing situation. Every day, some 53,700 new vehicles are added to the existing 2.2 crore vehicles on the roads. With 1,50,000 people dying every year in road accidents, our roads are among the deadliest in the world.
But all is not lost. We still have time to act smart and make our roads a better place. If we don’t take corrective action now, it will be too late to do so.
The traffic is still being managed manually even after 70 years of Independence. Police can utilise their time better if the traffic management goes smart. Smart signalling system based on real-time data and with 24/7 operational capacity is the way forward to managing our traffic. It is also a fact that we cannot have signals at all the junctions and corners and in such places, road markings and signs should clearly prioritise the traffic.
When it comes to monitoring and controlling, it will be no brainer to rely on photo, recording and automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras. The national road networks should be broken into clusters such as school zone, residential, main road, internal roads and highways and speed limits be applied to each cluster. These should be monitored using speed cameras.
Vehicles unfit to run on roads contribute to pollution to a major extent and are also responsible for accidents. Hence, it must be made mandatory for all the vehicles to obtain health certificate each year. Vehicle health checks should involve all the required checks such as tyres, brakes, pollution and engine. This should be monitored by the RTA.
It should be mandatory to have all other documents sourced in the central database. These should include motor registration document, insurance and licence to enable police to check the vehicle details even without stopping traffic. The increasing number of road accident deaths can only be controlled with stricter traffic law and good lane discipline. The government has to go the extra mile to implement sensible traffic rules, pedestrian crossings in safe places, have clear road markings and sign boards and pavements among others.
Congestion is another major problem. Irrespective of the number of flyovers or skyways, we still face traffic gridlocks on a daily basis. Implementing dedicated bus lanes could be a potential solution to this problem as people may choose public transport.
The twin problems of pollution and congestion can be addressed with these steps. Monitoring of these bus lanes by live cameras will ensure dedicated bus lanes are not abused. These bus lanes can also be used by ambulance, police and other emergency vehicles. Encouraging public transport will also raise the need to improve their standards and these can be done by offering dust-free, clean, noise-free, and Wi-Fi-enabled services.
In this digital age, it is not out of place to suggest that the buses should accept debit cards for ticket purchases. Alternatively, travel cards should be made available to buy from shops like SIM cards.
I was amused when Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recently accepted that there are about 30% fake licences. The actual figures could be way beyond this. The process of applying and issuing licences should be transparent and go online. One must be given a driving licence only after passing an online theory and a practical driving test in real traffic.
New drivers should be well-versed in traffic laws and failure to adhere to this should be dealt with strictly by imposing fines with points and money and even by cancelling the licence. A new driver should start with five points on his licence as there is more risk with them than those who are experienced. These new drivers should get a clean driving report and a clean driving licence if they do not commit any offence in two years. If a driver gets 10 points on his licence, then the driving licence should be automatically suspended for the next two years.
• Jumping signal: 3 points plus fine
• Speaking on phone while driving: 5 points plus fine
• Drink and Drive: 10 points plus fine
• Accident – Minor (no injury to anyone ): 5 points plus fine
• Accident – injury or death: 10 points plus fine
• Rash driving: 3 points plus fine
• Overspeeding: 5 points plus fine
We cannot let our youth die in road accidents or our children die prematurely due to air pollution. We need to tackle this problem with a smarter, strategic and a long-term solution. It is high time we started looking into the issue seriously and fixed it at the earliest before it slips out of our hand.
(The author is a software engineer and an entrepreneur based in London)