Taking note of 25 per cent increase in road accidents in the year 2015 as compared to the year before, Transport Minister Ramkrishna Dhavlikar says the solution lies in widening of roads – national highways, state highways and other roads (including major district roads). It is a fact that state roads are narrow which hampers smooth movement of traffic and though the vehicle population has risen to over 11.50 lakh in a population of 15 lakh little has been done correspondingly to widen the roads. State plans for six-lane and four-lane highways and roads remain shelved. The state witnessed 4,338 accidents last year in which 311 people died. Most of the casualties in road accidents for the last three years were on the internal roads and not on national highways. This year till mid-April over 1,250 accidents took place claiming nearly a hundred lives. The number of road accidents could be much higher as many cases are not reported owing to compromise between parties. Sometimes the police play active role in mediating a compromise.
Doubts have been expressed about the efficacy of short campaigns for safe driving among students of schools and colleges, as rash driving by youth shows no signs of abatement and restraint. Most vehicles involved in accidents are scooters and motorcycles, the preferred mode of transport among the youth. Most accidents could be attributed to narrow width of roads, crazy driving by commercial vehicles, lane-breaking and over-speeding motorists and reckless driving by scooterists and motorcyclists, especially the youth. Many fatalities in accidents involving two-wheelers are due to non-wearing of helmets, which though compulsory are rarely worn, except when the police undertake drive to give challans. Violators of driving rules among motorists are seldom penalized. There is more non-enforcement than enforcement of the rules. Police drive against violators is occasional and at times selective. A vigorous drive against all those breaking rules should be carried out continually and severe action as prescribed under law should be taken by the transport and the police authorities to bring discipline among the motorists on the state roads.
The new Director General of Police Muktesh Chander has said that he would give priority to bring discipline on state roads. However, he says the police cannot bring discipline on road alone and co-operation of road users is also necessary. Chander, who was special commissioner of police for traffic in New Delhi prior to his posting in Goa, notes that the accident rate in Goa is very high and has directed his force to hold a seminar on road safety involving all stakeholders (doctors, officers from PWD, transport department, education department, local bodies, NGOs, colleges and schools) so that suggestions for making driving on Goan roads safer could be gathered for implementation. He also hinted at installation of traffic signals, which are absent in the state. The new police chief has expertise in traffic management and we hope his sharing of this knowledge with his colleagues would at last lead to good traffic management in the state.
Widening of roads to make them safer could take an indefinite time as it is not possible for the government to find the money for it and do it within a short time. Goans will have to bear with the existing roads till wide roads become a reality. Violations such as overtaking from the left in speed and driving at high speed coming out of inside lane at T-junctions by motorists and snaking by scooters and motorcycles could be reduced with wider roads. However, wider roads sometimes means more illegal parking space for commercial and private vehicles, leaving the effective road for use of drivers very much the same, or narrower. One-way lanes are turning into parking, stopping and waiting lots for cars. Of course, road widening is a must and objections of people with houses to be demolished should be met with. However, there is no escape for the police and transport officials to use their human and technological resources efficiently to manage traffic. One thing that can substantially reduce not only accidents but also traffic problems is signals. It is really intriguing why the Goa government cannot find funds for installing traffic signals at road junctions. They could start with Panaji if they do not have money for all the state. The government should invite leaders of industry and commerce to pool funds from their corporate social responsibility allocations for the installing traffic signals across the state. And the police must equip themselves with vehicles and gadgets to catch violators anywhere and fine them heavily.