THE TIMES OF India (Chennai edition dated 14 Feb 2013) presented a report City Buses biggest killers. It pointed out that the Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses of Chennai had the smallest fleet among the Indian metros and yet were involved in more fatal accidents than by buses in other metros. The death rate pointed to Chennai having the smallest fleet of 3622 buses that accounted for 104 deaths; Mumbai had the best record of a 4607 fleet accounting for only 26 deaths. Bengaluru had the largest fleet at 6437 buses and accounted for 83 deaths. The report pointed to the careless and callous driving that resulted in 1411 fatal accidents in Chennai with speeding accounting for 224 and careless driving for 136 deaths. It’s horrific to say the least, that there is killer out there on our roads.
Unsafe at any speed...
Over a decade ago, IE pointed to the vehicle manufacturers’ role in ensuring road safety. In the 1960s, consumer activist Ralph Nader proceeded against the three giant auto manufacturers of the US for their vehicles being unsafe at any speed. His relentless campaign finally compelled the automobile producers to focus on safety. In quick time, consumers were protected by more stringent punishment, penalties, warranty clauses and product liabilities.
Unfortunately, despite being in business for several decades, Indian automobile manufacturers have not been focusing in required measure on the vital aspect of road safety. In the 1990s, IE suggested that buses in large cities should be fitted with automatic transmission; the strain on the bus drivers in such cities to drive the vehicle through congested roads over long distances calls for frequent engaging of the clutch and brake pedals and shifting of gears. Added to this discomfort is the location of the engine by the side of the driver. Just imagine a bus plying for two hours from Ayyappanthangal to Parrys!
With the speeds of buses and heavy vehicles in the metro restricted to 40 km per hour there is also the need for speed governors that will ensure this.
TN, the most agitated...
Chennai metro suffers from yet another behavioural issue. The same edition of Times of India presented another report: Restive TN protests the most. In the figures provided under the caption, Most agitated, TOI pointed to the state recording on an average 44 demonstrations a day in 2011, much more than that in any other state. The figures mentioned the number of protests in Tamil Nadu as 15,746 against Maharashtra’s 8289 and Karnataka’s 5013. Political parties, government employees and groups of communities organised majority of the protests.
It is common knowledge that drivers of public transport vehicles are often a law unto themselves. Any stringent action taken by the police on gross violations have been met with instant dislocation of traffic by haphazard parking of vehicles. The politically strong labour unions also make it difficult for the police to issue a ticket to the bus driver for traffic violation, or even for the driver of an auto-rickshaw. Remember the spirited campaign of TOI on the government enforcing the legitimate requirement of the auto-rickshaw charging by the meter so stubbornly refused for decades. The traffic department has to stop treating this killers-on-the road with kid gloves.
Speed money for driving licences...
Yet another cause for the humongous number of deaths on roads relate to corruption and the role of speed money in getting driving licences. In the film Indian, director Shankar graphically depicted the scenario in regional transport offices. He had clearly and truly hit the nail on its head. While fitness certificates and licences were often issued without examination, dozens of driving schools mushroomed all over the state, making it possible to obtain driving licences without the needed tests.
The Centre has streamlined the issue of passport by taking recourse to information technology. The involvement of the reputed corporate TCS has helped eliminate corruption and abuse in quick time. The government will do well to invite likewise a reputed corporation to handle the job of issuing driving licences under government oversight.
I would like to stress again the role of vehicle manufacturers. I had suggested earlier that this prosperous segment accounting for a significant share of the GDP should take a more positive role in societal concerns on road safety. It should be possible for the large oil companies and manufacturers of vehicles and components to set up driving schools in each one of the 600 odd districts and assist the government in this vital task. Large auto companies like BMW in Germany have been actively involved in assisting cities in traffic engineering and planning. IE has suggested large auto companies to take care of such tasks in metros and cities near which they produce the vehicles.
Equally important, we should place cameras on our roads that will capture violations. Such violations should be met with punitive action with no leeway for anyone to interfere with the process. This has worked well abroad. It will work well in India also.