18 January 2014

Sriram Narayanan on: traffic intelligence

Here’s a true story. Obviously, one name has been changed to protect that person’s identity

Sriram Narayanan
Car image

Dilip Bhujbal seems like an earnest man. He is the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Highways). His department is concerned with accidents on Indian highways and high-speed roads such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

Apparently, his department has a solution. Study the Yamuna Expressway, impose fines for cutting lanes, install CCTV cameras, and install an optical fibre lane and traffic intelligence detection system costing a cool Rs 36 crore. Now, let those grand plans be as they are. And let me tell you a true story. Let’s call this guy Bhujji.

Bhujji can be any guy or girl in India. He is middle-class, has a stable job, lives in a rented flat, he may be married, may have a girlfriend. He has never felt the need to buy a car, nor does he plan to buy one. Yet, he decides he must learn to drive. Not as a passion, but just as a life skill.  

It begins as usual. Bhujji gets himself into a driving school and spends a day at his local Regional Transport Office (RTO) to get his learner’s licence. This involves lots of queues, handing over miniscule paper receipts across departments, and witnessing how senior officers do not consider the lack of royal robes and a crown to be a deterrent to demanding they be treated like kings.

In all that flitting between queues, Bhujji stands in the wrong one and has to go through a maze to get out of it. An agent sees his plight and offers some counsel. “This place comes second in corruption. Don’t bother walking through all that. Just jump the queue and come out”. By which time the learner’s licence test begins.

It is a PowerPoint presentation about traffic signals and road signs. Participants have to look at the signs, and answer multiple-choice questions by pressing the corresponding button on their chairs. You need a minimum of six out of 10 to qualify. Simple enough. What makes it simpler though is that the person conducting the test simply tells you the correct button to press for each question. Test passed, Bhujji gets his learner’s licence, leaving him flummoxed rather than elated.

In the course of 30 days, Bhujji goes through the entire rite of passage. Accelerator, brake, clutch, parts of the engine, simulator training, changing tyres, driving in narrow lanes and driving on highways. For a person who has never even sat in the driver’s seat of a car in his life, Bhujji is doing a decent job of it.

Until the day of reckoning. The driving test for a permanent driver’s licence. He sees the same faces at the same RTO doing the same things. But he’s focused. He knows he’s here to drive a car in front of an inspecting officer. Bhujji’s day begins with an agent asking him for a random licence plate number that he may know of. He doesn’t. So the agent asks another agent for a plate number and fills that in the form.

After much form filling and cash paying, Bhujji is at the ground where he’ll have to drive. An officer at a table on the ground asks Bhujji his name, occupation, place of residence, and then the biggest question: Do you know how to drive? Bhujji nods. The officer nods, stamps the form, approves the granting of the licence and gestures for Bhujji to leave.

As I write this, Bhujji awaits his permanent driver’s licence, to be delivered to his residential address. And when he gets it, he will be aware that he has got a licence by passing a driving test without coming within 30 feet of a car.

So, yes. Plenty of CCTV cameras, heavy fines and a Rs 36 crore optical fibre lane and traffic intelligence detection system is definitely the way ahead.

Tags: sriram narayanan



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