Blow Horn ….. Please

State of Traffic as an indicator of governance
 

‘Blow horn …. Please’ painted on the back of trucks and buses hark back to the days of single lane roads where you had to blow horn (or if it was in the night use dipper) to signal to the vehicle ahead of you to give way. If you just think of it, the entire set of traffic rules can be summed up in three words – right of way. They are essentially the following:

  1. Vehicles have a right of way on the road except the pedestrian crossings where the pedestrians have the right of way.
  2. Vehicles have right of way only on the left side of the road.
  3. Vehicles have to give way to those coming from their right side (this is because for the right hand drive cars, left side is a blind spot).
  4. Vehicles coming from by lanes have to give way to those passing on the main road.
  5. On a slope, vehicles climbing up have right of way.
  6. At a traffic signal, vehicles facing green light have right of way (seems simple does it not?)

Besides the above, a few more rules make up what constitute a convenient, safe and civilized way of road use. They are:

  1. Thick white line in the centre of road indicates that you cannot overtake vehicle ahead of you.
  2. Broken white line in the centre of road indicates that you may overtake the vehicle in front of you from its right side.
  3. In both the cases, the lines indicate that you must stay on its left side at all times.
  4. Thick yellow line on the curb side indicates that you cannot park the vehicle.
  5. A big rectangle box with diagonal lines at the cross roads (not seen in India) indicates that you can enter the box only when you are sure of clear passage (this will work only when people respect giving way to vehicles coming from their right side). This is essentially to prevent logjams at cross roads without traffic lights. It is a kind of self regulatory mechanism.
  6. At night you do not put head lights in high beam because it blinds the driver coming from the opposite direction. You use them only on unlit roads and particularly those that have sharp bends. Even so, if you see a vehicle coming from the other direction, you lower the beam.
  7. Lastly, you DO NOT blow horn, normally.

In my view state of traffic provides a good proxy measure for governance in a country, state or city. This is because governance at the end of day is nothing but how different stakeholders negotiate their interests and the respect they show for law and rules.

As Bibek Debroy puts it ‘governance is distinct from government, and is the process through which various stakeholders articulate their interests, exercise their rights, and mediate their differences.’ (Agenda for Good Governance ed. Bibek Debroy)

Thus, there is an element of give and take between different groups in the way the resources of the society are used. Where any particular group exerts disproportionate power, then the governance suffers whether it is undue power exerted by the sand mafia in NOIDA or the mining mafia in Bellary when Reddy brothers ruled the roost. The governance is also about the regulatory quality as Kauffman and others emphasize and efficient legal judicial system as Bibek Debroy points out.

So how is all this related to the state of traffic? Firstly, the state of traffic reflects the citizens’ respect of rules and their willingness to negotiate their interests fairly. If a person driving a SUV thinks the road belongs to him and he can drive as he pleases, there is a problem. The bigger vehicles or drivers who are powerful or connected to the powerful such as politicians, bureaucrats or celebrities pushing those with smaller vehicles off the road (exerting more power than their due) is a manifestation of mindset that does not respect law or rules. Secondly, it shows poor regulatory quality – the inability of the state agencies to enforce the rules to punish the offenders and protect the weak. Inordinate delays in bringing to book those who kill and maim others by their reckless driving points to a weak legal judicial system. Actor Salman Khan’s case, which has been dragging for over a decade, and the infamous Sanjiv Nanda’s case reflect the problem with our legal judicial system.

What is seen daily on the city’s roads is repeated in other spheres of life. The well connected get away with murder – the law does not apply equally. The Acts and rules are all there – but not enforced. What we see on the streets of our city is a syndrome that can best be described by the motto ‘live and let die.’ There is helplessness at the way people drive as there is helplessness with the state of governance in the country.

If government and policy makers are serious about good governance, I think the best place to start is the traffic system because it will showcase the government’s ability to enforce laws and rules effectively. Good traffic system would also mean provision of adequate footpaths, parking spaces, decongesting roads through penalties (like the decongestion charges) and last but not the least a good and reliable public transport system. All these can be achieved only through proper coordination among the various state agencies such as the municipality, traffic police, utility providers, transport companies, licensing authority and so on. Citizens would also learn to respect law and rules. In time it is bound to rub off on other spheres of life as well. Even if it does not, we would have achieved quality in one aspect of life at least.

Srinivas Kumar Alamuru
Advisor

[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS.]

0 thoughts on “Blow Horn ….. Please

  1. Gautam Pingle

    See:

    Traffic Patterns in Seattle and Hyderabad: Immediate and Mediate Transactions
    Paul G. Hiebert
    Journal of Anthropological Research
    Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter, 1976), pp. 326-336
    Published by: University of New Mexico
    Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3630020

    Reply
  2. Chandrasekhar

    Brilliant piece, as usual, Srinivas garu. You have hit the nail on the head. Your piece highlights and analyses problems well. Here are my two cents.

    As a reckless youngster, with utter disregard to traffic rules, I used to zoom on my two-wheeler in New Delhi from extreme left to extreme right, trying to be ahead of every vehicle. Of course when I think of it now at my ripe age, I have no hesitation in admitting that I feel ashamed of myself. When I see someone doing exactly the same today, throwing traffic out of gear, I get angry. I say to myself “you did it.. so you deserve it”… I say a silent prayer then ..”forgive them ..oh.. Lord, for they know not what they are doing”… so the sum and substance is…. governance is ok.. but what about the duties and obligations of citizens in this country? How many of us stop, yes, stop at a traffic red light dutifully, when the policeman is NOT around? If there is no traffic or light traffic and no policeman, well, any light is the same, at least in the city I live.

    So, as I read recently in a report, should there not be a Human Responsibilities Commission, when there is a Human Rights Commission?

    Governance can go only so far as its citizens can take it to.

    Reply
    1. Srinivas

      That is precisely the point. Citizens are very much a part and parcel of governance framework.

      All I am saying is – you look at the state of traffic in a country, you get a good measure of the governance in that country. We all know why it is the way it is. Traffic is a good place to start to usher in good governance.

      Reply

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