Delinquency is pervasive when it comes to abiding by road safety rules in India. From riding bikes without helmets to ditching the seat belt, we flout rules in gay abandon. Sadly, these ostensibly minor mistakes often ramify into dire consequences including loss of life. In West Bengal incidents are rampant where road accidents take the life of people for flouting rules. To put a check on this the state government launched the Safe Drive Save Life campaign in the year 2016 to build awareness on the importance of road safety among the masses.
On the 5th anniversary of the Safe Drive Save Life campaign, The Optimist News got in touch with some IPS officers who are ensuring road safety for all.
Three Es of traffic management
The ADG and IGP of West Bengal Traffic and Road Safety, Ajoy Kumar IPS, said there are three aspects to road safety: education, enforcement and engineering.
Road users who may be vehicle owners or pedestrians are educated on how to avoid accidents by abiding by traffic rules. “People are taught how to cross the roads and at what spot they should do so depending upon the carriage-way,” Ajoy Kumar IPS informed.
The violators of traffic rules like those who are over-speeding or are riding without helmets are prosecuted. Roads are reviewed every day and the ‘black spots’ which are most prone to accidents are identified and engineering interventions are carried out over there with the help of PWD, NHAI, or other bodies.
“We function with the help of a network of district police and Commissionerates who are doing their best on this front. We are a monitoring agency and function centrally from the Traffic Headquarters,” the ADG informed
Talking about the challenges faced by the Traffic department on account of the lockdown, Ajoy Kumar IPS, said, “Maintaining social distancing guidelines while being in close proximity of people was difficult”. Guardrails were also put in place with proper lighting so that vehicles do not knock them over and cause accidents.
Maintaining traffic rules is crucial since the lives of the people are at stake. “We from the Traffic Department try our best to save lives due to the negligence of the road users or due to faulty implementations from our side. So we remain very cautious. We earnestly appeal to people to follow the traffic guidelines.” Ajoy Kumar IPS said.
A participatory approach towards road safety
Data from various quarters suggest that road accidents have been a major cause of death in the state. The Joint Commissioner of Police (TP), Kolkata Santosh Pandey IPS, suggested, “Road safety education should be part of the education system and also a part of our daily life because our mistakes may greatly impact the life of another person.”
In Kolkata, as part of an awareness program under the Safe Drive Save Life campaign, drivers are asked to manage traffic for a day. “This enables them to see things from our perspective. Similarly, education and training programs are conducted for drivers whose vehicles were involved in accidents,” Santosh Pandey informed.
When we think of road safety the first thing which comes to our mind is the vehicles, but looking into the concerns of the pedestrians is equally imperative. As part of the three E’s of road management, regular assessments are also conducted. In case of accidents, the police determine the cause of the accident and address them through suitable interventions.
Though public transport is not in full swing during the pandemic, traffic has to be monitored properly to ensure proper Covid appropriate behaviour. During the lockdown, the Kolkata Police had a system of passes in case anyone had to step out. CCTV cameras and number plate reading cameras are used to identify cases of violation.
Talking about the usage of technology in traffic management, Santosh Pandey said, “Technology should be adapted based on needs. If some technology works in someplace it is not certain whether it can be adequately used in some other place.” In Kolkata, different kinds of vehicles ply on the same road. So even though Kolkata has a centrally controlled traffic system at times the traffic management has to be done manually. Similarly, in the case of automatic cameras which are used for prosecution, the personnel on the ground cross-check the information manually and then proceed with the case. Thus the presence of the force on the ground remains a crucial factor for traffic management.
Involvement of all stakeholders
The Commissioner of Police of Chandannagar Police Commissionerate, Arnab Ghosh IPS, stressed that traffic management involves the cooperation of multiple stakeholders. If all the stakeholders come together and think on similar lines road accidents would come down.
The primary stakeholder is the person who is driving the vehicle. Knowledge of traffic signals, traffic signages along with his physical and mental well-being are of paramount importance to ensure safety on road. Secondly, the mechanical health of the vehicle is critical as well. “This should include the health of the tires, which should undergo periodic checks. It should be the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle or of the driver who should bring it to the knowledge of the vehicle owner. Moreover, the enforcing agencies should also put it to periodic tests,” CP Ghosh said.
The third aspect is the road on which the vehicles are moving. The road maintenance authority has the responsibility to ensure there are no sudden sharp turns and minimum potholes. “These lead to loss of control thereby causing accidents,” CP Ghosh pointed out. Periodic checking of roads by PWD, Zila Parishad or NHAI should be carried out.
The next important role is played by the traffic policemen whose duty is to see that vehicles slow down when necessary. The final aspect is the role of pedestrians. “In most of the cases, their role is neglected because usually they are the victims and attract all the sympathy. So even if they are on the wrong side of the law their role is not scrutinized,” CP Ghosh notified. Sensitization from the school level would ensure that we have conscious pedestrians on the streets.
Today many women officers are joining the traffic force as well. When traffic police personnel stop commuters on the road, people are usually impatient and misbehave with the authorities. As a message to the people, CP Ghosh said, “I would request all commuters to dedicate some extra time for us so that we can do our work. Let us cooperate with one another so that those ten minutes do not become costlier than our own lives.”
The most visible face of the police
The Commissioner of Police of Siliguri Police Commissionerate, Gaurav Sharma IPS, highlighted that the role of traffic police is dynamic and it is where the efficiency of the police department is tested on an everyday basis. “Every person irrespective of his background or affiliation has to go through the traffic system,” CP Gaurav Sharma said.
During the pandemic, the role of the traffic police personnel has become more challenging. They have to be on duty for long hours. Moreover, when they are issuing challans or even interacting with people they have to maintain a safe distance and follow Covid protocols.
The usage of breath analyzers became restrictive due to Covid, hence, alternate mechanisms of enforcement had to be devised. Besides, enforcing government restrictions, deciding on which vehicles should ply, giving way to the permitted vehicles, and online prosecutions posed added responsibility on the police. “It was a fine balance between enforcing the Covid restrictions, maintaining a humane approach and at the same time enforcing the traffic rules,” CP Sharma said.
Gaurav Sharma IPS, also stressed the importance of basic IQ while commuting. It is common sense that if there’s a seatbelt in the car it is designed for you to wear. Similarly, helmets are meant for protecting your head. “One should realize that we are not the only people moving on the road, we need to follow certain norms and regulations so that all drivers in a disciplined way keeping thoroughfare safe and convenient for everyone, otherwise, there will only be chaos and accidents. Almost everyone is aware of the rules, the only need is to follow them. We need to generate a good traffic culture where the need for enforcement is minimal,” CP Sharma emphasized.
Traffic management remains a crucial aspect of daily policing and public awareness is the key to ensure proper implementation of road safety rules. Let us be respectful of those on the ground ensuring our safety and try to be more responsible while on the road.