Traffic snarls are never pleasant, but if there can be so much discipline in traffic jams, I never knew. On our way to Paris by road, we were caught in a traffic clogged highway which is infamous for the worst traffic jams in Europe. During the peak rush hour in the evening, vehicles inched slowly in stop-and-go movement, but amazing was the army like discipline with which the traffic moved in an orderly manner. No bumper to bumper driving, all the vehicles moved in their own lane maintaining significant distance between one another. No overtaking, no lane changing, no honking. Unbelievable!
Another scene, albeit another location: in an Indian dominated suburb of Sydney, the driver, an easily identifiable Indian, waited patiently in his car, while we crossed the road majestically on foot. I wondered if he would have treated the pedestrians with the same respect back in India, quite possible the driver would have frowned, if not intimidated us.
I often wonder why there is so much chaos and complete anarchy on Indian roads. Why is there scant regard for pedestrians and traffic rules in our country? After all, the same Indians who care two hoots about the traffic rules in our own country follow the rules abroad.
Our chitchat with Indian families at a get-together in Sydney had much to throw light on the subject. It had barely been a month since fines on traffic violations had been raised steeply in India; quite naturally the discussions veered round traffic penalties in Australia.
A young Indian couple recounted how thrilled they were when they bought a car and went for their first car ride on the wide roads of Sydney. To give them company on the ride was a close family member from India, the proud mother of the lady. There was a lot of excitement, loud music being played in the car. Driving merrily, the young man was caught on speed radar exceeding the limit. The excitement turned into despair when a hefty fine was slapped on him for multiple violations like dangerous driving, over speeding, loud music, passenger at the back seat not wearing the seat belt. Four thousand Australian dollars! The blow was much bigger as it had not been long since they migrated to Australia and hence were still counting in rupees. A fine of two lakhs in Indian rupees was a huge sum to give them many sleepless nights. Needless to state, the mother-in law was in a state of complete shock.
Another shocker for us: four friends including our son, minus their wives, were on a bachelor trip to the hills. The young man behind the driver’s seat was driving fast beyond the limit on an expressway. He was given a chase by the cops. Finally when the vehicle was intercepted, he sought to justify, “I was overtaking a vehicle and hence ….” “No, you overtook not one but quite a few vehicles,” was the curt reply from the cops. Not only was the fellow charged with a heavy fine but also earned a number of demerit points. An accumulation of demerit points beyond a certain limit implies the suspension of driver’s licence, the most dreaded punishment.
Now, we realized why traffic rules are followed so strictly in Australia. Not only are the fines hefty but the only way to escape fines is to obey the traffic rules. And this has an implicit lesson for India: hefty penalties are not enough, more importantly we need the fear of law, strict and effective implementation of traffic rules in which technology can play an important role.
(Published in Chandigarh Tribune on 16 January 20120)