Monday, February 23, 2009
Pedestrian Rights - It Is My Road Too
I read a recent article in The Hindu titled thus: Poor Patronage for Subways, Foot Overbridges. Please read it for a better perspective on this blog.
The overall attitude of our police officers and citizens with vehicles is that in Chennai (and in India) pedestrian "discipline" is the major cause of accidents involving pedestrians. I was travelling in a car near Thiruvanmiyur. We entered a narrow lane with teashops and houses on either side. A person crossed the street to a teashop, in front of our car. One of the guys with me said , "walks as if it is his father's road". You hear this kind of comments from educated people all the time.
The other day I saw a person crossing a junction talking on the cellphone. A lady stopped her scooter just before her and yelled at her for using the cellphone.
During the rains, the road near my home is flooded on one side. Pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road to avoid stepping in the putrid water. Car drivers lunge at them, honk at them and generally try to make the pedestrians run for cover.
We know all of this, it happens before us, and there is no reasonable framework to address this.
The reason is that police officers and the general public have completely bought into the view that a road belongs to cars and motorcyclists. Wherever that road may be, whatever the circumstance.
I have written in detail about the plight of pedestrians in Rajiv Gandhi road (OMR) : one of the complaints of the guy in the car (in above article) is that he has to "apply sudden breaks in his car in the OMR". The OMR is a straight road, and the speed limit is 40km/h. If you had to apply sudden brakes, it means a suicidal maniac ran in front of your car.
But that is the picture they present - that pedestrians are somehow leisurely strolling across "their" roads. Anyone who walks in any of these roads would know that the opposite is true.
I think the core problem is that there is no awareness of what rights a pedestrian has - and hence the whatever pedestrians do, they are blamed for accidents.
List of Pedestrian Rights
I will suggest below the following set of Pedestrian Rights - I know these may not be followed, but we have to make an effort:
1. In a traffic signal with no "walk" signals (for pedestrians), walkers have right of way to cross the road on a green signal. Turning vehicles have to stop for pedestrians.
2. In a road or alley or street, if there is no pedestrian sidewalks, (or if there IS a pedestrian sidewalk and it is unpassable), then 15% of the road width on either side belongs to pedestrians. Cars should NOT park on this zone.
3. If a pedestrian set foot on a pedestrian crossing, traffic SHOULD stop until they cross. Pedestrian crossings are meant to be that way - in practice noone respects them.
4. In a school zone or in residential roads, pedestrians have right of way across at any point.
5. In roads that pass through suburban districts or office districts, medians should be low and pelican signals (where a pedestrian can press a button for a signal) should be available in frequent intervals.
Why are such rules very difficult to enforce in our roads? There are practical reasons why people find it difficult to call shots or fight for their rights in plenty of other situations.
But, after observing traffic violators for some time, I have noticed this - most people are not rogues. Most people violate laws because noone teaches them the laws.
This is, of course, not conventional wisdom - I have heard people blame Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) for issuing licenses indiscriminately. But the core problem is NOT that people do not follow know how to drive. I have been through the driving license classes and here is the core problem - there is NO Training or Education in RTOs.
That is, RTOs reserve the right to issue licenses - but there is no information supplied by them about a list of traffic rules to follow. In the United States and in most developed countries, getting a driving license is a two-step process. First, you have to get a book, read it, and then clear a written test. Only after the written test do you get the Learner's License. After that you take driving lessons.
The FIRST step is learning traffic rules and learning (fundamentally) that driving is a social act and it has certain responsibilities.
By focussing instead on driving as simple as learning to turn the steering and manage the gears, RTOs have failed their purpose.
If, such a educational system exists, then it is easy to take the list of pedestrian rights and push them as part of the syllabus.
Pedestrian discipline is NOT the problem; Jaywalking is NOT the problem - the problem is driver attitudes and our torturous roads.