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India: white knuckle driving

Before higher mobility thinking can be implemented, the fundamentals need to be addressed. In Goa the stats speak for themselves.

A family on the move in Goa
A family on the move in Goa

The first time I visited India was 25 years ago, which makes it my silver anniversary. The first questions that I was inevitably asked back then were, a) was I married and, b) what was my religion. Returning a generation later, the question that came up the most was what football team did I support. What can I say?


However, what really hit me was witnessing the takeover of the mobile. The utter absorption displayed by so many people was really startling. India has an almost unhealthy obsession with cell phones. We’ve all read the stat about there being greater access to mobiles than there is to toilets but also, in the18 months up to September 2016, there were 127 reported ‘selfie’ deaths globally, and India accounted for 60 per cent of these.


I visited Goa – which I’ve heard tell countless times is not the real India; I guess that’s because it’s the real Goa. It’s beautiful but its roads are terrifying – not in an Italian drivers’ way – but in a way that says driving lessons may be a rare thing and any adherence to a highway code is a fool’s game. I actually experienced the worst white-knuckle drive of my life in a two-hour journey by car between Agonda in the South and Panaji, the state’s capital in the North.


There are numerous (gorgeous) cows on carriageways, intersections and roundabouts that move or sit at random and are totally invisible at night especially if they are black.


Then there’s hundreds of 2-wheelers – scooters and motor bikes – carrying multiple persons with only the driver wearing a helmet (and that’s not really a given), while the toddler standing in the front, the child squashed in the middle and the mother at the back (with the billowing scarf) have no protection whatsoever. Then there are the scooters that think they are actually delivery vans carrying large panes of glass(!!) or 6-feet long wooden poles.


Then there’s the undertaking and the driving on the wrong side of the road, witnessed by myself on several occasions, and particularly prevalent if you don’t want to follow a diversion sign and you need to get home on the button for dinner.


Then there’s the traffic lights that no one bothers with, and the lights over the main highway that strobe, making the entire experience feel like you’re in Grand Theft Auto.


Then there’s the speeding, the lack of seatbelt wearing and absolutely no giving way to anyone. Ever.

This brings me to our highlighted news this week, where we report on the launch of a grand challenge to select an Indian state to host the first mobility solutions in this compelling and totally mesmerising country.


The selected state will be the first host of India’s Urban Mobility Lab, a programme that helps project teams generate solutions to complex mobility problems and test their solutions as pilots in a Lighthouse City.


The challenge is huge but the benefits would be enormous. Goa, maybe that state should be you.

All the Goans I spoke to bemoaned the sheer craziness and congestion on their roads. Buses too, didn’t fare much better with tales of driver drunkenness, unsafe vehicles and unauthorised stopping. If you can create a sustainability mobility model here, you could pretty much do it anywhere.


However, before higher mobility thinking can be implemented, the fundamentals need to be addressed. In Goa the stats speak for themselves.


The Times of India reported on a study published earlier this year that found that accidents in Goa are on an upward trajectory with one person dying every single day in a road traffic accident (and that doesn’t include those who are seriously maimed and injured).


Lack of traffic sense, patience and speeding are the causes, and sadly most of the fatalities are the young on their scooters and superbikes. According to the above-mentioned newspaper, 200 new vehicles are registered on average each day, with 69 per cent of these being the hugely popular 2-wheelers.


Before smart mobility schemes are introduced, and before any attempt is made to scale these, foundational work such as tackling driving transgressions have to be met. Far stronger and importantly, connected law enforcement is needed. Greater public awareness and education regarding road etiquette and safety is an absolute must.


Whilst In Goa, I read that the powers that be were exploring a public bicycle-sharing scheme through a public/private partnership to start in the next four to six months in Panaji. GPS bikes will be available at a monthly charge with the first 30 minutes free. While I recognise the intention – better health, clean options to get about – this seems like a novelty which on its own goes no way to solving any mobility problems.


In the whole time that I was in Goa, I saw half a dozen pedal bikes in use, and of these, two of them were cycling down the wrong side of a really busy main road. Attempting to cycle in the congestion, heat and general melee just seems like the actions of someone who is tired of living.


During my trip another smart initiative made headlines. Following a crackdown in Delhi on traffic rule violators, the Director General of Police in Goa launched the Traffic Sentinel scheme, a platform running on WhatsApp through which concerned citizens can report traffic offenders and in turn earn cash rewards.


Citizens have to register to become traffic sentinels and, depending on the type of violation they report, will earn him/her points. Triple seat riding on a scooter/bike and using a mobile whilst driving, for example, earns you ten points, parking on a zebra crossing gets you three, while zigzag driving (!!) gets you just two. Once 100 points have been accumulated, the traffic sentinel can claim Rs1,000 and then you start all over again.


Given the amount of traffic transgressions my brother-in-law witnesses on a daily basis, he declared that he was going to mount a Go Pro on his Tata Nano (without, may I add, any real safety features) and embark on a new lucrative career as a traffic vigilante.


I guess that’s the thing about digital, it opens up opportunities where none existed before.


Melony Rocque

Executive editor




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