Jump signals at your own risk

Jump signals at your own risk

Jump signals at your own risk

Union Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde’s death in a road accident in south Delhi has shifted the focus back on the dangers of motorists jumping traffic signals — the most common of the traffic violations.

A meagre fine of Rs 100 has failed as a deterrent for rash drivers as 3.4 lakh challans have been issued for the violation this year till May 15.

It becomes a major concern especially after dark till early morning due to the tendency among drivers to ignore traffic signals when there are no police personnel present to enforce rules. Many proposals to increase the fine have also been made by Delhi Traffic Police in the recent past, but they are yet to be approved by the government.

Traffic experts reckon that the number of challans may have increased over the years, but drivers continue to break the rules as even repeat offenders get away lightly.

“In a city like Delhi, traffic management cannot be limited to just the enforcement of laws. It must also have an element of deterrence. The government must take a piloting role on safety and adopt global safety standards,” says K K Kapila, chairman of the International Road Federation.

The city reported 645 fatal accidents this year till May 31, of which 223 took place between 11 pm and 9 am.  As it happens, many traffic signals are kept on blinker mode from midnight to early morning, mostly up to 6 am.

“The purpose of the blinkers is to warn the drivers at a crossing and they should slow down and move cautiously. This is hardly the case as drivers tend to speed leading to fatal accidents,” says Anil Shukla, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic).
Questioning of drivers involved in such cases reveal that they had little time to react and prevent an accident after jumping a signal.

In the June 3 accident involving Munde’s car, an initial police probe has revealed that the signal at the intersection in south Delhi was functional like any other time of the day when the crash  took place around 6.20 am.

“The area usually does not see heavy traffic during the early hours in the morning because of which we manage with the signals being on the blinker. Traffic Police personnel come in at 7 am,” Shukla adds.

The accident took place between 6 am and 7 am when there was no policeman deployed at the intersection. But the signal was running on a  30-second cycle.
Road safety experts believe that this ‘long’ traffic cycle in the early morning hours is what usually tempts people to jump the signal and this is what must have led to the accident involving the minister.

“What is the need to have a traffic cycle of 30 seconds when there is no traffic? This will definitely make people jump the signal if they are in a hurry, while those with the green signal may be speeding. On the contrary, if blinkers are on, people will automatically drive carefully given the fact that they will have to keep a track of vehicles coming from either side,” says Piyush Tewari, founder of Save Life Foundation.

He says the absence of policemen on the road during early hours allows people to drive at whatever speed they want. “The solution to this problem is using the technology more effectively. Internationally, there are cameras all over which are functional even in the absence of policemen and people fear that they would be caught by the camera and will get punished,” Tiwari adds.

Environmentalist Sunita Narain highlights that around 60 per cent of the accidents in the capital last year were because of driver's fault. “Unlike the developed countries, enforcement of traffic rules is poor in our country and the law provides no deterrent against irresponsible driving. In most cases, the offending vehicle is never caught. There is no way to catch, let alone convict,” she says.

She feels that Munde’s death must force the government to introduce strict laws so that such incidents don’t claim more lives in the future. It was on the same road in south Delhi that Narain sustained severe injuries after her cycle was hit by a reversing car seven months ago. “In the developed countries, errant drivers are punished with hefty fines for the basic traffic violations due to which they stick to the laws. We must introduce a system for the safety of the people even if it needs harsh punishments for the errant drivers,” Narain says.

Time to act

Taking note of the debate on road safety in the last few days, the Central government has also decided to strengthen the Motor Vehicles Act and suspension of driving licences after three offences of jumping traffic signals is being considered.

Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has told media that an amended law incorporating provisions in force in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Singapore will be ready by July. “If anyone violates road rules more than three times, his driving license will be suspended for six months. After the fourth violation, the licence will be cancelled,” he said.

The minister will also call a meeting of the Road Safety Council later this month, where all state transport ministers will discuss the new draft law. “The new Motor Vehicles Act will come into force in one year,” Gadkari said. It is likely to include measures such as installing CCTV cameras at all traffic signals, redesigning heavy vehicles and centralising data to check misuse of driving vehicles.

The Motor Vehicle Act, which was last amended in 2012, has provision for stringent punishment and hefty fines. Soon, a driver may have to shell out Rs 500 fine for the first offence of jumping a  traffic signal. Further violations would attract Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500.

Traffic Police have also identified 10 intersections in the city as accident-prone during any time of the day due to faulty road design and flow of traffic. The data has been shared with concerned authorities in order to ensure  appropriate action to avoid fatal accidents.

Most of these spots are near busy intersections, like Mukarba Chowk and Ashram Chowk, where traffic remains heavy throughout the day. Last year, Traffic Police had prepared a list of 483 locations which did not have proper road markings. Of these, just a little over a hundred were addressed while no action was taken at the rest of the spots.

“We have done the surveys to address road safety issues. There should be proper road markers to guide a driver which is missing on certain stretches and needs to be addressed,” Shukla says. Most of these roads are maintained by the Public Works Department with some under the jurisdiction of New Delhi Municipal Council and the three municipal corporations.

As part of a solution to the menace, three Bangalore-based engineers claim to have developed a device which can effectively check speeding. ‘Real-Time Monitoring of Vehicles’ tracks vehicles through the global positioning system. Once installed in a vehicle, the device will keep track of speeding and monitor whether the driver is wearing a seat belt.

It will also display the speed limit for a particular road. If the driver exceeds the limit, a message will be sent immediately. “Drivers must be encouraged to adopt such technology as nobody wants to be killed or be dangerous for others on the road,” says Ankisha Garg of NGO Safe Road Foundation.