A Drive too ambitious

Indians, by temperament and virtue, believe that everyone else should follow rules but feel exempted from doing the same. At any given point in time, one would be able to see at least a dozen cases of pedestrians jaywalking, riding without helmets, speeding in cars without seat belts, dangerous lane cutting and driving insanely. Road rage is common. Rash driving, it seems, gives a sense of power to people. So much so, that any sane driver has to be careful to safeguard oneself from the instances of any violations by others.

India fares amongst the worst countries where over 400 people get killed in road accidents every day (as per 2015 data) totalling over 1.46 lakh people in 2015 alone, increase of nearly 5 per cent from previous years. Overall, as per government estimates, nearly 5 lakh road accidents take place every year. In the past decade over a million deaths have been recorded in road accidents.

Understandably, the government amended The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill 2016 that was passed by the Lok Sabha earlier this year, which allowed government to impose heavier fines, improve systems and instantly check vehicle details and prevent theft and bogus claims.

However, the entire focus of these amendment is aimed on better governance and relatively less on inculcating and enforcing compliance of traffic rules amongst violators. To close this loop, traffic police in various states has set out on this e-challan path, which has been implemented in certain states.

The Mumbai traffic policeand has a MTP app that has a host of features and can be used after downloading the same in any phone and the app offers citizens to report traffic violation using the phones GPRS to identify the location.

Violations like triple passenfers on a bike, without helmet, no seat belt and double parking can be reported by taking and uploading the photograph, which is then verified by the backend team and challan issued to vehicle, which can be paid online.

As per some traffic officials, the challan cannot be cancelled by anyone in the system. On the IOS platform one could see that a similar app has been also developed by the Bangalore traffic police too.

However, the adoption of this mode of ensuring traffic compliance, and reducing manpower, has not picked up for many reasons — including launching in haste, without proper communication, lacking integration at the backend and with ground personnel, as is inconsistent performance.

Consider the fact that in places like Dubai, there is a comprehensive integration between various divisions of government that not only identifies the errant driver and vehicles, it also encourages compliance by swiftly punishing them, all without any physical presence (except in cases of accident).

In places like Dubai, violators are photographed, their challans uploaded on the site, and every year they cannot renew their vehicle registration unless the challans are paid and fine updated.

Back home, firstly, there is no incentive or requirement to download this app at the time of registering the vehicle. This requirement enables to link a vehicle with a phone, an important connect in case of sending out SMS or issuing alerts or challans.

Secondly, the violations are not linked to vehicle insurance premiums. If every insurance is linked to insurance renewal premiums and servicing, the compliance would be better enforced.

Thirdly, there are just too many versions of the app as each state has its own app. Once the GPS in the phone is being used (assuming good connectivity, which is another debate), the need for different versions can be consolidated for ease.

The system needs to be dependable and consistent across categories. I once received an SMS on my mobile in October sending me a picture of a violation done in January of that year. Also, there are occasions when the challan is issued without proper picture of violation (and is paid just to avoid a visit to the station)

The ground staff needs to be aligned for this initiative. A traffic constable once told me that if the challan is not paid, the offline system of someone calling you from the nearest police station will then take over, when they get time. Now, with no connect between vehicle registration and driver/owner details, this system itself seems cumbersome and open to gaps.

Confidentiality is key for this adoption, especially if one needs help from citizens to report compliance. The option, however, seems missing from the app.

The government has its eyes set on a wide objective to safeguard its citizens and tame violations and a start has been made with various initiatives but the last mile connectivity in terms of cohesion and enforcement is missing, which can be easily overcome. If Uber can get an idea of their cabs globally and provide better experience to its users worldwide, the department is surely equipped to take advantage of these technological advancement for the betterment of its roads and people.
(The writer is a communications strategist )