Recently our government announced that it plans to reduce 50 per cent road fatalities by 2020. Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, has said that the government will adopt smart mobility technologies to achieve this.
So what exactly are these smart mobility technologies and will they help the government achieve its very laudable target? Well, for starters, it's great that the government has woken up to the fact that India has the largest number of road fatalities in the world. As per official statistics, 1.5 lakh people lose their lives annually on our roads while 3 lakh suffer disabilities. Please note these are official numbers, so the actual figures will be surely higher. A government spokesperson has said that multiple measures are being taken to reduce the number of fatalities, including the construction of smart roads and smart highways. The government is currently conducting a national road audit to identify black spots which are notorious for causing accidents. Already 726 black spots have been identified and these are being rectified.
The spokesperson claims that poor road infrastructure is one of the main causes of road accidents, and they are also working towards improving road architecture by ensuring they are well-illuminated with clearly marker lanes. Another issue is the poor quality of driver training and ease of getting a driving license. The official stated that once the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill 2016 comes into effect, the licence rules will change and getting a driving license will be comparatively difficult. Also, with the application and verification process becoming digital, it will be more difficult to get a bogus licence.
Will such smart mobility technologies reduce by 2020 the road fatalities by 50 per cent? I have serious doubts. Yes, the road infrastructure needs to be improved. The roads must be scientifically designed and need better markings, lighting etc. Driver training certainly needs to improve and getting a licence needs to be made more difficult. Yes, these will help reduce accidents, but certainly not by 50 per cent and definitely not in just four years time.
You can have the best road infrastructure, but what about the road users? Are they qualified to drive? Do they follow traffic rules? The simple fact is that we are a nation of rash, undisciplined drivers who flout every possible traffic rule. And we do this because we know we can get away with it. The rules are there, but nobody enforces them.
It's important to improve driver training standards and make getting of driving licences more difficult. But then what about the people who drive without any sort of driving licence? I am told more than 50,000 people are booked every year for driving without a licence in Bangalore. This is just in one city. The all India number of people driving without licences has to be in the millions.
And what about people driving with bogus or fake licenses? Minister Gadkari recently admitted that over 5 crore Indians drive around with a fake licence. He also said his government will make the application and verification process for a driving license digital and this will reduce the number of fake licences.
All the measures Nitin Gadkari and our government intend to take must certainly be taken. But if we are to reduce the road fatality rate by 50 per cent by the year 2020, lots more need to be done. Traffic laws must be strictly imposed. Rich or poor, North Indian or South Indian, high caste or scheduled caste, old or young, male or female, villager or city dweller, everyone who violates traffic laws and drives in a rash or unsafe manner must be punished. The fines for traffic offences are also set to increase when the Motor Vehicle Act is amended by our parliament.
The government must not roll this back and recruit more traffic police to increase the fear of breaking traffic rules. We must have regular traffic police patrolling on our highways, where the number of road fatalities is higher. A special cell of 'Highway Patrol Police' must be created all over the country with the responsibility of reducing rash driving and ensuring traffic rules are followed by all. They must also check vehicles for road worthiness.
In my 36 years of driving all over India, I have never seen any cop checking the lights, brakes, tyres or road worthiness of any vehicle. This is also a big cause of accidents. Recently, after the bridge in Mahad collapsed and couple of state transport buses got washed away in the fast flowing Savitri River, few state transport drivers said that the headlights on the buses were inadequate, especially in low-visibility conditions. After which the state authorities said they will have an inquiry to look into this. Typical bureaucratic response.
I can already tell you what will happen. The findings will be that, yes the headlights need to be better. But the cost of better lights needs to be factored in. They will start another inquiry into how to raise funds for better lights. And then another committee to decide on the tendering process and selection of these lights. One more committee to decide norms for selection of suppliers. Blah, blah, blah. And in the meanwhile accidents will keep on happening, and people will keep dying on our roads. Oh Darling, Yeh Hai Hamara India!