Traffic Woes

I have been travelling from Nerul to Bandra-Kurla Complex and back every day by road for the last 5 years. Since my daily peregrinations started, the travel time has steadily come down – a good sign of increasing connectivity and improving road conditions (despite my rants). Now it seems to have settled down to about an hour in the morning and a little under two hours in the evening – a little better and a lot stabler than it used to be.

However, every passing day as I drive and observe traffic around me, I become more convinced that despite all the complaints about poor road conditions, the bulk of the blame for gridlocks squarely falls on us drivers, those who blatantly ignore rules and exhibit poor road discipline.

Small pockets of intense congestion are commonplace. These are almost always caused by some truly atrocious road sense1. Few drivers know that RED means STOP. Some do stop, but several metres ahead of the bright zebra crossing forcing pedestrians to navigate between vehicles with revving engines. At unmanned junctions vehicles don’t stop, they keep inching forward, ever so slowly, so much so that 4-way intersections inevitably end up dead-locked during rush hour. Lane driving is nonexistent2. Vehicular turn lights are used cursorily – announcing “I’m taking this turn” rather than indicating “I will take the next turn”.

Take a look at road etiquettes. How often do slow lumbering vehicles hog the rightmost lane? How many times do vehicles give way to another? More often than not, when two vehicles come to an impasse, a honking slugfest ensues. Incessant bursts of blaring horns whenever the traffic lights change. Pedestrians are hurried off the roads.

All in all, it’d be fair to say that I don’t enjoy driving around in Mumbai. Rarely do I get a smooth drive in the city.

This condition of drivers showing complete apathy towards road rules, even the most basic ones, is worsening. And its not just private or commercial vehicles(taxis) that flout the rules, even government vehicles – BEST buses, garbage collecting trucks, tow trucks, even police vans themselves – are completely oblivious to them3. Its contagion. With everyone in a hurry, all it takes is one errant driver to inspire everyone else to jump a signal, overspeed, drive rashly. Collectively we seem to be heading towards chaos on the streets.

One way towards better traffic conditions is to collectively undergo a change, inculcate discipline. But thats perhaps too optimistic.

Something more grounded in reality is to hope that someday our traffic policemen start penalising errant drivers strictly. The more that indiscipline goes unchecked, more will be the incentive to bend rules. Unfortunately, our traffic policemen don’t do much to enforce or inculcate discipline. They are concerned with more earthly affairs – look cool with shades, pull over trucks and carrier vehicles across lanes further disrupting traffic, pull over cars for having darker-than-allowed-window-tints, pull over two-wheelers for not wearing helmets. Obviously, these ‘broken rules’ lead to fatter wallets for the cops.

Traffic policemen, with their modus operandi, are ineffective. Exercising stricter policing for a sustained period of time might help. Having a safety drive every few months, trying to ‘raise awareness’ isn’t working. But there is a bandwidth problem at hand – the number of vehicles is too vast and our road networks too extensive for a limited number of traffic cops to actively monitor. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have traffic cops simply note down vehicle registration numbers along with the offence and send the vehicle owner a ticket with a hefty fine? Maybe fines should be higher for vehicles on government duty? Execution is key. All this easier said than done.

My cars’ odometer tells me that my office is 26km from home. Considering the fact that most of this distance is along wide, well laid roads – Palm Beach Road, Sion-Panvel Expressway, SCLR – it shouldn’t take more than 40min to cover. Here’s hoping that someday I’ll be able to leave home just a little later in the mornings and get back home a little earlier, a little saner.

  1. Driving license tests in India seem more geared towards making sure that the driver knows how to work the car mechanics and less towards road rules and common driving etiquette ↩︎
  2. Most vehicles think of roads as obstacle courses, zig-zagging between lanes ↩︎
  3. Government vehicles should lead by example – a reckless “Maharashtra Shasan” car does most harm. ↩︎

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