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18 October 2012

Do We Deserve?....Part 1: The Violators

Every morning when I travel to the office in Mumbai, I regularly see driver violating traffic signs with impunity. In almost all the countries that I have travelled to, people religiously follow the traffic signs. They implicitly seem to understand that following traffic rules make your travel less stressful and paradoxically faster. 

But not us in India. We are proud of some pet themes like 'Life never stops in Mumbai' or 'People are always on the move' etc. We seem to have taken these themes literally and are 'always on the move' even when the traffic signs turn red, or are red..

In Bangalore, they wanted to have Video Cameras installed in all the major junctions. They wanted to track the traffic movement across the city from a central control room. They still have these installed in some key junctions and they work fine. In all the movie halls, they show scenes of traffic violations and accidents caused by drivers (especially bikers and truck drivers). Coming before the movie is screened, these are more exciting than the real movie. 

While this is working reasonably well most of the time, there have been cases of people stealing the cameras installed in some of the junctions, especially in the suburbs where the oversight is thinner. 

These cameras help police to identify traffic violators, levy fines on them, and most importantly, bring help quickly to the sight of accidents. Sometimes the innocent drivers get levied fines (Yours truly was one of the unsuspecting fine payer for a violation that I didn't cause). Despite the small issues, I still feel that such initiatives will bring in better traffic control in our cities. 

The key question that I am asking is, why do we violate traffic rules?

Is it cultural? do some cultures violate traffic rules more impuedently than others? Are we born  traffic violators?

Is it behavioural? Most of the people who come to the city are migrants from villages. In villages, there is lot of spaces and there is hardly any traffic rules. When you come from the vast expanses of the villages to the highly dense cities, some of the areas where the 'basic instinct' works is in violation of traffic rules. 

Is it just an excuse? Is it that world is not going to fall if you spend  seconds in the traffic lights. People are just habituated to violate traffic more so because there is not negative consequences to violating traffic rules? If there a way of promptly identifying traffic violations and firmly handling the same, people would just fall in line?

You often see that if traffic policemen are present, then everyone follows the traffic rules. Do we always need policemen? Can't we police ourselves?

Is the traffic violation is a symptom of something bigger? Perhaps governance failure. There are enough rules to ensure proper traffic in cities. However, with the politicians focussed on tasks other than governance, there is a general laxity in all areas of administration and this is reflected in traffic violations? 

Of late there is a lot of talk about India moving to become one of the leading economies in the world. With rampant disregard for public rules, do we have a chance of reaching there? More importantly, do we even deserve to be called a 'developed' country?

What say?

PS: Having said the above, I think Mumbai has much more traffic sense than some of the other cities in India. People stand in line to board the bus. Lane discipline is by and large followed. But still there is scope for improvement.

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