A few days after revellers took over the city's roads in the name of New Year celebrations, a traffic policeman had a peculiar story to share. When he stopped a trio on a motorcycle in the early hours of January 1, the person riding the bike showed him receipts of five previous fine payments. They paid another 50 bucks and continued to drive in a zigzag fashion. “They were all young, educated and had good jobs. What do you do with such people?” he asked.
On Monday, the Chennai City Traffic Police (CCTP) took the first in a series of proposed steps that aim to tackle bad road behaviour and unsafe driving. While the increase in ‘spot fine' rates has received wide attention, what is more significant is that repeat offenders would henceforth be targeted more stringently.
For certain offences, the fine could be three to four times more. Since the 200-odd e-challan devices deployed by CCTP would have to stay connected to an online database all through the day in order to identify repeat offenders, the discretionary powers of police personnel would be greatly reduced. From now, all offences would have a digital footprint and they can be tracked.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Sanjay Arora said that it would take a few months for the move to start showing results. “Fine collection would definitely increase manifold.”
Increasing the penalty for bad road behaviour does have its benefits. Hyderabad did it in August last year and the number of road accidents dropped by 30-40 per cent in the last quarter of 2011.
Hyderabad Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) C.V. Anand said that traffic offences and road accidents are taken far too lightly in most Indian cities.
“Car owners park their vehicles obstructing traffic and get away with a mere Rs.100 fine. The amount is almost equal to a parking fee. In countries such as America, the fine amount for a single violation in dollar terms is as high as Rs.10,000,” he said.
But levying a fine is just one of the solutions, say experts. Large-scale changes are also needed in the mandate and method of policing, they say.
M.K. Subramanian of the Automobile Association of Southern India said that policing needs to be enlightened, not just enforcement-driven.
“The police must understand that the purpose of a fine is not to increase the revenue of the government. They keep complaining about the low fines, but the best deterrence for over-speeding is to make the motorist wait on the spot for 30 minutes. The police also have the power to make a helmetless two-wheeler rider buy one on the spot.”
Motorists such as Abdul Rahim single out the Rs.50 fine for jumping signals to make their point. “Half the traffic lights are not working anyway. When all the signals are blank, how can they implement the rule? What we need more than anything is a way to evaluate the performance of the traffic police. Just to show higher fine collection each year, pointless offences are booked, which may not at all have any impact on general road behaviour,” Mr. Rahim said.
In case a traffic signal remains dysfunctional for more than two months, the police jurisdiction under which it comes under must be penalised, he added.
IIT-Madras professor K. Giridhar, whose team set up a speed monitoring system inside campus, said the next logical step is for the traffic police to link repeat offences with the insurance premium. “If you own a fancy car, the premium may cost up to Rs.15,000-18,000. If bad driving is going to make them pay a higher premium, then it starts hurting.”