Tuesday 18 Jun 2024

Change gears on road policing, set stronger deterrents

| FEBRUARY 24, 2024, 01:00 AM IST

Thursday was yet another horrible day on the roads with three separate accidents across the State snuffing out innocent lives. While an elderly pedestrian was knocked down by a KTC bus while he was crossing the road near the Holy Cross shrine, another person died under the wheels of a truck at Dabolim. The accident in Panaji however became a subject of intense debate once again bringing back reckless driving into focus.

According to information, a Nachinola resident was flung off his bike into the Mandovi River after being hit by a speeding rented car (rent-a-car) driven by a tourist from Odisha, who apparently was drunk and changed the lane while overtaking at a high speed.

In a flash of a moment, the biker was tossed into the river under the most tragic circumstances. Overspeeding, yes. Reckless driving, yes. Drunken driving, yes. Tourist, yes. Having all these boxes tickmarked points to the fact that we as a State have failed to reign in reckless and negligent driving and have allowed tourists and others those liberties.

 It is appalling that accidents and road deaths continue to be the order of the day for the past two or more years. The accident rate is consistently alarming. In 2023, on average five lives were lost every week in road accidents with a total of 276 people succumbing, while in the previous year, 2022, there were 271 deaths. Even the Covid year of 2021 saw 226 people dying due to accidents. This year has been no different with 454 accidents reported to date and 50 people dead.

On paper, a lot has been spoken about the rising number of accidents and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in his budget for 2024-25 has earmarked Rs 50 crore for road safety and improvement during the year with a focus on road safety audits and structural audits. Leave aside road conditions, the question here is about accidents due to human errors. Does the State have enough mechanisms or deterrents against errant drivers? Or, do we continue to be a free-for-all State basking in the splendour of tourism and allowing tourists the luxury of going freewheeling?

Top-ranking police officials went into a huddle on Friday to deliberate on the rising accidents and agreed that there is an increase in rash and negligent driving cases. Some of the suggestions that came forth were reintroducing educative and awareness initiatives, cautioning tourists, etc. Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho gave a call to rent-a-cab operators to educate clients on responsible driving and the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol.

All these are soft measures, tried, tested and failed. We must reconcile to the fact that awareness and education are not working. It is obvious that the system has to change gears, the government has to think out of the box and study traffic management of other safer states or cities across the world. Tackling over-speeding and negligent driving has to be a top priority.

What about technology? The AI-enabled cameras installed at a few locations have managed to track over-speeding and challans have been generated automatically. There may not be an immediate response, but in view of the camera surveillance motorists are forced to check their instincts. Manual enforcement has its many shortcomings and it may not be humanly possible to deploy police at all accident-prone zones. There is no harm in trying when everything else is failing.

What Goa desperately needs is road discipline, and for that to happen choosing the AI route could be one practical option at hand. Seriousness will come when there is swift penal action, consistently. When the government is spending crores in road infrastructure, and providing multi-lane highways and wider roads, it has to think of a holistic upgrade.

Although road rules and penalties have changed, policing hasn’t. Vehicles with tinted glasses escaping the eyes of the police found a mention in the recently concluded Assembly session and the chief minister assured the House that he would ask the police to tighten vigilance and get the film removed from all such vehicles. Nothing much has changed on the ground, and vehicles with windows filmed pitch-black continue to ply the roads with careless ease.

The Mandovi accident will soon be forgotten, just like the Banastarim one, and Goa will keep hearing of these road tragedies if stringent measures are not put in place. The government needs to tackle negligence on roads, and for that to happen there has to be a consistent and more serious approach, not a knee-jerk accident-driven reaction that is primarily aimed at quelling dissenting voices.

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