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.

Implementation

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.

7 comments:

Kunal said...

Hey Ram..

The rules you suggest here are easy for the RTO to implement.. But it is us, the citizens who need to be morally understand the need of it. We simply do not respect the pedestrians.. We don't even spare a slow mover on the road, Even when he is driving under the speed limit and we are not..

A couple of things..
Providing a switch to turn signals off before crossing cannot be implemented in our country. Every single person will want to push the switch and walk past. :P

We'd rather demand Police personnel be posted in such places, I have seen a lot of policemen helping people along Mount Road.

We have to respect rules, How many times have you seen motorists stop beyond the white line; making it difficult for people to cross.

Kunal

Ramiah Ariya said...

Kunal,
First of all thanks for reading these articles and commenting.
Indian citizens are not a different species from American citizens. Indian pedestrians or car drivers are not a different species either. People all over the world respond to incentives and information.
There are two angles to creating better conditions - one is enforcement with lots of traffic policemen. That works to a certain extent.
The other is teaching people how to drive. As I have explained, first, that is not OPTIONAL. You cannot punish someone without telling him the rules.
Secondly, teaching and learning is a big part of a social act. Take a marriage for example. We excel at the art of orchestrating a marriage. Everyone has a role, you know how to behave, you know how to smile for the video, be courteous while eating - all that is social learning. Driving is no different. It is a social act. It is the job of the RTO to provide enough information so that people understand, atleast.

Again, I am not sure if you were joking about the signals being turned on. This is similar to the myth that pedestrians will just stand in the middle of the road and talk, if allowed right of way in a pedestrian crossing.
Pelican signals work in most countries - do you think Indians are particularly evil or that every pedestrian out there has no other job than to make car drivers miserable?
Blaming "oursleves" does not help - most problems in India are systemic and not some kind of morality related issue peculiar to Indians. Indians respond to incentives as does everyone in the world.

Surya said...

We do seem to have a very high disregard for civic rules (no cellphones in temples). We are much more careful not to break what we think are religious rules (no footwear in temples). Many of the simple civic rules of yore (especially those regarding hygiene and cleanliness) had to be coated with a religious "reason" to be followed by a majority, if not all.

Kunal said...

Ram,

I think most people who drive cars or have a license know the basic rules. It's just that we need someone to tell us..

Kunal

Anonymous said...

The excellent answer, I congratulate

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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