Prevention is better than cure, right? Right. Donâ€™t touch a hot pan to avoid getting burnt. Get vaccinated to avoid being the first person to die of smallpox in around forty years. Itâ€™s the same principle on the road. Donâ€™t jump a red light to avoid becoming a mangled mess. Donâ€™t make an illegal U-turn to avoid becoming a mangled mess. Donâ€™t drive on the wrong side of the road to â€“ yes, thatâ€™s right â€“ avoid becoming a mangled mess. And if thereâ€™s one team whose job it is to try and avoid such mangled messes from happening, itâ€™s the traffic police. Yes, those selfless soldiers in white and khaki braving the heat of the sun to ensure that traffic flows smoothly…and also to make a quick buck or two.
Iâ€™m not saying everyone in the traffic police force is a crook â€“ itâ€™s just the ones that hide around a corner and wait for people to jump a red light or make an illegal U-turn. Traffic regulations are made to prevent accidents on the road, and playing hide and seek with motorists is not the same as enforcing these rules. Crossing your fingers and waiting for someone to break the rules puts motorists in risk of meeting with an accident which, if youâ€™re a traffic cop, is counterproductive. In fact, youâ€™re basically doing the opposite of what youâ€™re paid to do. And now, with the increase in fines after the amendment to the Motor Vehicles act, extorting smaller bribes also just got a whole lot easier.
But the recent installations of traffic cameras should fix that problem, right? If youâ€™re in Mumbai, like me, it sometimes makes things more complicated. When I moved here from Bangalore, I realised that itâ€™s common practice to go way past the stop line at a signal, and get right in the way of oncoming traffic. If you donâ€™t, youâ€™ll hear a cacophony of horns and swears from behind you. While e-challans for these offences are now being made, the stop lines themselves arenâ€™t. In most junctions, the white lines have worn off so much that youâ€™re more focussed on trying to find it, than on the pedestrian jaywalking in front of you. And if you donâ€™t find it, then youâ€™ve probably crossed the line and might as well smile for the camera.
Iâ€™m not taking the blame off the motorists here. There are plenty of people who follow the rules and there are even more who are either stupid or ignorant or both. But an important part of a traffic copâ€™s job is to ensure that one motoristâ€™s stupidity or ignorance or both, doesnâ€™t leave someone else on the road in a mangled mess. And focusing on trying to collect as many fines as possible is not the way to go. In fact, the goal should be the opposite â€“ to fine as few people as possible by making sure they follow the rules. We always need a cure for a disease that we know exists, and use it when necessary. But to encourage the disease for maximum profits from the cure, like in a high stakes pharmaceutical company? Thatâ€™s unethical.