Monday, 14 December 2015

God Bless America: Part IV

When I mentioned that “commonly known differentiating aspect, the driving discipline and traffic mannerism, is my next point of interest”, I was posing to be humble. In fact this one is a glaringly differentiating character. Many of us may even generalize it to be an aspect differentiating a developed and developing society.

Chaotic hold ups resulting from seemingly unplanned growth, sub-standard infrastructure, undisciplined behavior of vehicle users, is a way of life and we are almost used to it, if not the cause of it. Many of us like yours most truly may even not be silent spectators and may be abusing spectators for that matter. 

Traffic safety is a subject most discussed and little attended by all most all governments. I find studies after studies since the beginning of civilization (sarcasm intended) having been undertaken by many well meaning and other profiteering and politically motivated organizations and committees appointed by all and sundry government departments. The focus of these studies has been largely traffic safety.

It is irony, governments are more interested in quantity of life (and why not?) then quality of life on the road.

Traffic congestion is a major problem for transportation professionals in India. Most of the cities are suffering from medium to high level of traffic congestion. Although in some major cities the growth of private vehicle usage has increased at a faster rate, in general, car ownership and usage has remained at a much lower level in Indian context, as compared to increase in vehicular traffic of other varieties including bicycles, two wheelers and three wheelers. Poor road condition, non-uniform roadway specifications and features in terms of road width, lane width, shoulder width, turnings and round abouts, encroachment of road, abutting land use and resulting pedestrian activities, poor lane discipline, improper bus stop location and design, vehicles of wide ranging characteristics of technology and operating condition, heterogeneity of traffic, uncontrolled on-street parking, etc. indicate that the nature and cause of congestion in India are substantially different from those, if any in the developed countries.

Governments have been expending huge sums in expanding road networks, but little or no attention is paid to other softer and therefore difficult causes for abysmally poor quality of life on the roads.

Having experienced what roadway specifications can be while traveling in US, I was noting the lane width in particular. For us at home in India; width of Road (all rough edges counted) divided by two is the centre divider. And that is a broken line, meant for general guidance and not necessarily for restricting movement. If the road is wider, it can be because of many reasons, not necessarily current or projected traffic density (including financial considerations for parties to decision making), further divide by two to make two lanes each side. I wonder there are any standards and if any where have they been imported from?

I feel there must be standards but they are not for Indian traffic composition. Can we not have lanes designed keeping in view composition of our traffic, providing lanes with appropriate width for pedestrians, bicycles, two wheelers, three wheelers, cars, buses and heavy vehicles? I can not blame the traffic.

The causes of our traffic vows are thoroughly inadequately planned roads, lack of discipline, varieties of vehicles, our social customs, our religious beliefs related to animals, absence of laws and law enforcement. I am not talking rocket science. This is a matter of common sense. 

Who is responsible for this state?

I got my car driving license in early 70’s from a place, I had no connection with. That was because my uncle was District Superintendant of Police there. I do not remember I was tested at all. And that I am sure is true for many. Not everyone is as honest as I am. Compare this situation to what I experienced back in USA. My host has crossed 65 years (almost my age) and his license got due for renewal. He appeared at a written test of 100 questions. I believe we have introduced that system, but am not sure how effective is testing.

Traffic jams are experienced on US roads as well and I could witness on many occasions. But the way in which law enforcement agencies operate, the way in which vehicle users behave is totally different. There may be queues of miles on, but there will not be attempts to shift to lanes, there will not be honking of horns.

I believe there is dire need to educate law makers, law enforcing agencies and vehicle users including pedestrians.  I believe in US there is an institution of School Resource Officers, a type of Police Constabulary who help developing traffic sense in schools and may be even conducting driving classes for 10th grade students, since they have to bring cars from 11th grade on wards.

I looked at traffic signage and found thrice as many as we can find here, each making huge sense. I found the system of lines on the roads, broken, white full, yellow full and each has clear meaning which every one understands and mostly follows.

I found left only and right only arrows on roads. And everyone went by it, even if that meant travelling 10 additional miles for making a minor error of not following Right only lane arrow.

I am sure we will catch up and bridge the difference. I am sure our teachers will take up that onerous duty. Any comment from teachers in my circle?

So long. I will await for criticism and plan writing some more learnings. I have an explanation. Wait till you hear from me next. The cause is in Cultural aspects.