I have become blasé about the lawless nature of traffic in North Delhi. I say North Delhi because our drivers say that drivers in South Delhi tend to be more law abiding – possibly because of a greater police presence in Lutyens’ leafy avenues around the diplomatic enclave and the PM’s house. Or maybe because there are cameras on traffic lights at some intersections.
An article in the Times of India earlier this week seemed to suggest that India wasn’t doing too badly in the traffic fatality stakes, especially when compared to other developing countries. I don’t think that this is because of the deterrent of fines for traffic offences. The standard fee is 100 rupees (about £1.13) for a “small violation of the law” such as not wearing a seat belt, jumping the red lights or not having a licence plate. For the past decade, this has been supplemented by an additional levy of 500 rupees. More serious crimes warrant a higher penalty, like this sign warning of the dangers of driving in the wrong direction down a one-way street.
About 400 Indians die every day on the roads. I am sure that the death rate would be higher in Delhi if there were fewer road users. There is so much traffic that everyone drives slowly, weaving between rickshaws and bicycles. Most vehicles bear the scars of minor scrapes caused by “brinkmanship driving”. However, in today’s paper, there is an article on the front page with the headline ” Ring Roads turn into death traps as city steps on the gas”. The peak time for fatal crashes in Delhi is between 11pm and midnight on the dual carriageways ringing the city. This is when there are fewer vehicles and speeding is rife.
What concerns me is that 40% of the fatalities are pedestrians, in a city where there are few usable footpaths at the sides of the road. Another 40% are cycle or motorcycle riders. I have been dealt a glancing blow by rickshaws a few times, luckily without sustaining any harm.