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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Zones of excellence in road safety are the right response to PM Modi’s call

The model will help usher in a welcome culture of traffic discipline, smooth aesthetic flow in lanes, and responsible, proud citizen road-behaviour.

Written by Subhash Nagpal |
Updated: April 1, 2021 8:51:55 am
It is horrifying to look at the data of road deaths: More than 415 people die on Indian roads every day.

In ‘Mann ki Baat’ this January-end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a special reference to the government’s concern on road crashes and called upon the people to become active stakeholders in road safety activities. It is horrifying to look at the data of road deaths: More than 415 people die on Indian roads every day.

The harsh penalties under the new provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act have done more than half of the job, as “enforcement” of a road safety regime would appear to be the first key in this impasse. However, to take this campaign to the next level we must take a fresh look at the issue and explore certain simple steps to bring about a quick impact. To begin with, Union and state governments can earmark smaller areas in some cities as Zones of Excellence in Road Safety (ZoE). Preference can be given to geographic areas with a poor road safety record.

All roads in the ZoE should be properly lane-marked, zebra-marked, and signposted. Most markings and signage should, in addition to the pictorial image, define the instructions in words for easy understanding, and as a source of regular education of the road users. A dedicated corridor for emergency vehicles must be marked. Corrective action on the “black spots” should be completed on top priority in a ZoE. In the meantime, temporary measures can be put in place to slow down, and guide the traffic. It is also important to gradually provide enabling conditions such as improved, handicap-friendly footpaths, a safe lane for cyclists and pedestrians, more zebra paths with an inbuilt safety mechanism.

Round-the-clock checks should be conducted to enforce adherence to traffic norms in the earmarked ZoE. All available tech devices should be deployed, and private IT agencies of repute roped in. Best practices followed by road-safe countries should be suitably adapted. Strict checks and fines should be imposed, with the provision of charging a discounted amount where the offender is willing to pay on the spot. Similarly, detaining offending vehicles for the entire day or longer hours, instead of imposing fines, should be encouraged.

A crucial requirement will be the stationing of adequately equipped ambulances and cranes at closer distances to swiftly move away victims and damaged vehicles. A separate emergency helpline for the ZoE/ all ZoEs within a state, operated by the trained staff, is the need of the hour. Details of the helpline should be posted in a ZoE prominently, and at multiple public places and social media.

It is important that road users and people, in general, are sensitised about the norms and spirit of road safety. Regular road safety awareness and education programmes should be conducted in residential areas, over the weekends, with the active assistance of the RWAs/local bodies/NGOs.

A three-tier administrative structure can be put in place to run a ZoE in a smooth, war-zone like spirit. First, for day to day operations, there will be a managing group, comprising middle-level officials from the traffic police, highway regulatory authority, local body of the area, PWD, health, education, electricity and horticulture departments, headed by a senior administrative or police officer with proven performance record. The group will resolve day to day issues of enforcement and management of safe roads. The second level would have an exclusively earmarked officer from the district headquarters who will very closely monitor the functioning of all ZoEs within the district, and extend urgent help where such intervention is sought by the Group. A committee of seasoned people can also be co-opted to assist in the monitoring processes. A third tier would comprise the Union/ state minister concerned. Indeed, a separate minister for road safety can be appointed both in the Union and state cabinets.

The execution of the proposed model rests on harnessing resources of government agencies, private sector, NGOs and the common people as meaningful stakeholders in the road safety mission, in a competitive spirit. The model will help usher in a welcome culture of traffic discipline, smooth aesthetic flow in lanes, and responsible citizen road-behaviour. This culture should soon transcend beyond the limited area of a Zone to cover other parts of the society.

This article first appeared in the print edition on April 1, 2021 under the title ‘Safety by example’. The writer is a former civil servant and Member, National Road Safety Council

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