A proposal has been mooted by the Chennai City Traffic Police (CCTP) to set up an e-challan system modelled after similar programmes in place in New York and London. The essence of the scheme is to deploy 200 hand-held devices that will be used to record offences, keep an online registry of all cases and help in monitoring repeat offenders.

While technology adoption has the potential to improve traffic enforcement, the CCTP's track record has not been entirely positive. For example, more than 38,000 traffic offence cases were registered by the police in 2008 when a fresh batch of surveillance cameras were installed. This dropped to just 6,388 cases by 2009.

Most cameras went into disuse owing to a lack of maintenance. In 2010, less than one per cent of offences were booked with the help of a surveillance camera, though such devices are in place at 80 locations.

Another example is CCTP's Facebook page which has over 2,000 followers, but the last post by the police was on August 19, 2010. Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) M. Ravi said that though the force has established an online presence, “services have not been launched due to the lack of proper technical teams who can manage it 24 hours”.

If technology can indeed play a part in effective enforcement, what can Chennai learn from cities such as Delhi and Bangalore that have deployed technology to give a fillip to traffic enforcement?

Delhi Police started the trend of having a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Nearly 50,000 people follow its Facebook page and regularly post pictures of traffic offences.

Satyendra Garg, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Delhi, says that the department has received 16,400 photos of traffic violations till now and 1,500 persons have been prosecuted, based on the pictures, which include a dozen police officers as well. “Everyone who has a mobile can be a traffic deputy. People must become a part of any enforcement strategy,” he says.

A two-man dedicated team monitors Delhi Police's virtual presence round the clock and regularly puts updates about road blocks, breakdowns, heavily congested junctions and rallies. Such alerts are also sent as SMSes and more than 60,000 people have subscribed to the service.

In the case of Bangalore, most policemen are equipped with a Blackberry device that logs offences and generates an e-receipt. Praveen Sood, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Bangalore, says that policemen get an extra two hours every day for enforcement duty since they no longer have to maintain a huge offence registry.

All enforcement measures rely on cameras or other equipment and are evidence-based, Mr.Sood says. He claims technology has had a huge impact on road behaviour. Bangalore also has 180 cameras across the city to rationalise signal timings based on traffic volumes.

Geetam Tiwari, chairperson of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi, says that behavioural studies show that if people realise the chance of them getting caught is less than 30 per cent, they will violate road rules. “Speed monitoring at night, detecting stop-line violations and signal jumping can easily be left to technological tools,” she adds.

Mr.Ravi said that with Chennai having only 1,900 traffic personnel, one of the lowest in India, greater emphasis would be made to link technology with manpower. “The e-challan system is only the first step. We would soon be acquiring laser speed guns and a new generation of traffic enforcement devices.”

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