Traffic: The government’s blind spot

Today’s Hindu has a front page article titled, ‘Steps to ensure road safety of students’. A state level task force is being constituted to study fatal accidents involving school children and come up with an action plan to prevent them. This is good news indeed. But it leaves wide open the cause of such accidents, and will apparently deal with defensive measures such as uniform color of school buses etc.

What of enforcing traffic discipline? Nary a word. Many of the drivers on the road show scant respect for the rules, leave alone common sense or basic courtesy. At any given point of time, vehicles are driven in such a way they endanger other vehicles on the road, takes risks, or endanger pedestrians or cyclists with little, or often, no margin for error. When is the traffic police going to realize that their primary responsibility is to ensure orderly traffic on our roads? By creating widespread awareness of traffic rules, and then enforcing them.

About four years ago, in a bid to assist the traffic police in such an initiative, I mustered the co-operation our advertising agency in the development of an awareness and road safety campaign to which they readily agreed. Our media buying agency committed their support in getting outdoor and media space in publications an airtime on TV as this was in the public interest. And we were going to do a concerted effort over the Internet.

Having marshaled these resources, I set up an appointment with the then Traffic Commissioner and went with the agency head to meet him. Our appointment was for twelve noon, but the commissioner only arrived at 2 PM. Because he had to stand by at the Fort so that he could salute madam as she left! (That was the explanation given, so you can imagine the amount of senior officials time wasted every day to cater to one ego). In the meantime, the agency head had to leave as he had another client meeting, but I hung on doggedly.

When he finally arrived, he apologized and said that this was something beyond his control and an everyday occurrence, then ushered me into his office. I then outlined my proposal to him. He then said that they had already put in place such a plan and had the resources to execute it. Following which he made a power point presentation to me on his plan Which was pretty good, except for one glaring issue which I didn’t have the heart to point out to him. At any rate, the message was clear: Thanks, but no thanks, we don’t need your help.

And what was the flaw? He had chosen the actress Khushboo as a spokesperson for the traffic police! In a state ruled by a Chief Minister with an ego of incredible proportions, and who was/is paranoid about anyone else getting the lime light. This was suicide as I saw it! Well, he made his presentation to the Chief Minister (which he told me was to happen within a week’s time), and the predictable followed. He was promptly transferred to some other post, where he went on to gain notoriety by arresting couples in the Tower Park at Anna Nagar!

Where did that leave us? With a mounting toll of death and disabilities on our roads, as the traffic continues to flow haphazardly with no awareness and no enforcement of order. And the toll continues…..

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