High-end cars bane of Delhi roads

K. Balchand
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Allegations of police trying to shield car owners rather than coming to victims' rescue

On April 8, 2010, a BMW knocked down an elderly morning walker and two years later another car of the same make killed a policeman on duty. The involvement of cars of the same foreign brand in the two incidents may be a coincidence but is indicative of a trend fraught with danger.

Both were cases of rash driving on the roads of Delhi, which accounts for the highest number of deaths among cities. Those behind the wheel were influential, the victims were left to fend for themselves and the police role was dubious, to say the least.

In the first incident, the police instantly arrived on the scene but their prime objective appeared to be saving the car owner. The victim was left to bleed to death. That is what the locals and the victim's family members alleged.

With the car having overturned, the elite driver was immobilised and could not use his driving skills to flee. But the men in uniform whisked him away in a jiffy. The locals cried foul and jammed the road near the famous Akshardham Temple but the police were unmoved.

The second accident, on April 10 this year, was a repeat — albeit more bizarre. Though the driver made good his escape, the car was identified by a passerby. But that did not alter the conclusion of the story much. The police again seemed to be trying to shield the owner of the BMW though the victim was one of their own men. “They [police] are treating that killer as a guest,” shouted the furious family members of the victim.

The two incidents, though occurring several km apart and under different police stations, signify the existence of a clear instruction on what police priorities were. The 65-year-old victim in the first incident was never taken to hospital though that should have been their immediate response.

The second incident, significantly enough, occurred after the Supreme Court recommended harsher punishment for drunken drivers causing deaths and that they be charged under non-bailable sections. It prescribed 10 years' imprisonment, scoffing at the maximum of three years awarded to those held responsible for road deaths.

The police were quick to say the pub owner who, driving at high speed, knocked down the policeman in the wee hours, was not drunk. There is no gainsaying that the police enjoy arbitrary powers in such matters, rendering the court directive ineffective.

On Friday, a Toyota Corolla crashed, leaving the driver dead.

An instance of road rage was witnessed just over a week ago when the owners of an Innova lynched an auto driver. The reason: his auto had scratched past their car.

In less than six weeks, over half a dozen foreign brand cars were involved in fatal accidents, leaving a trail of blood and bodies behind.

The young drivers of the more expensive Lamborghini (February 2012) and Porsche (October 2011) did not survive the crashes which occurred as the vehicles were running at speeds of 200 and 180 km per hour. This suggests that the world-class brands of cars neither provide much safety to drivers nor are they meant for Indian roads.

An investigation by the Indian Foundation of Transport and Research Training (IFTRT) into the case of a BMW hitting a running truck from behind in Ahmedabad in 2009 revealed that the high-end car caught fire within a minute and four of its occupants died.

Joint Secretary (Safety) in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Nitin R. Gokarn maintained that contrary to the public presumption, these cars did not provide safety. Moreover, Indian roads did not permit such high speeds. Within Delhi, the maximum permissible speed is 40-70 km per hour and on the highways, the limit is 80 km.

In the absence of necessary infrastructure, things are only likely to deteriorate in India given the massive jump in the preference for such speed machines.

The police do not classify accidents in segments, says Joint Commissioner (Traffic) Satyendra Garg. While he refused to say how many accidents these high-end cars caused in one year, IFTRT senior fellow S.P. Singh estimated the figure at 40 to 50, most of which were not even reported to the police.

Ironically, far from lack of awareness, people with better educational qualifications were more prone to committing accidents, reveal statistics. Only a change in the behaviour of the affluent people with proximity to power could perhaps bring about a change in the scenario.

As a matter of fact, policemen are usually scared of acting against the owners of foreign vehicles, not sure who the occupant is and how much clout he wields, and, more crucially, to avoid damage to himself, said an official.

There were instances when such owners just flung wads of currency at the police personnel when they sought to enforce the rule of the law.

Poor quality of investigation is another reason why car owners go scot-free. An ordinary constable investigates an accident and no scientific probe is carried out, admits Mr. Garg.

  • People with better qualifications more prone to committing accidents

  • Things may worsen given the preference for speed machines

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