Road safety and behaviourMay 27, 2012, 8:10 pm
Welcome to the ninety second(92nd ) edition of the regular column "The Catalyst".
Here, we discuss a wide range of topics around Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), many aspects of Business, SME Development, Agriculture, Education, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Innovation and the Society at large.
Road Safety and Behaviour
Today I felt like venturing into a completely different topic, one that we haven’t discussed in this column ever. That is around road safety, road behaviour and the like.
In recent times, there appears to be a considerable increase in road accidents, or it could be that the media coverage of such incidences has increased. Almost every day, we get to hear media reports of many fatal accidents. And of course, day in and day out weexperience the bad behaviour of drivers and pedestrians first hand. Many people complain that three wheelers and motor cyclists are the worst. Some complain that all drivers are alike. However, I feel that there is another side to this issue, one that is more befitting to discuss with the more intellectual audience of ‘The Island’.
You may remember that a few years ago we didn’t have white lines drawn on roads properly, but today they are in place in most areas. Personally I feel that drivers’ behaviour has improved with that. This is most apparent when you are driving along a properly sectioned road with lane markings and all of a sudden the white lines disappear and chaos begins. With proper lane markings people don’t drive straight into your face that much nowadays as they did in the past when the road didn’t have any lines. What changed? The infrastructure got better.
In the southern highway, although there have been a few accidents there haven’t beenany vehicle-vehicle collisions. The accidents were mostly skids. Highways typically create accidents dueto high speed or skids, but collisions between vehicles are few. Again, what is the underlying point? Better infrastructure, fewer accidents and better behaviour.
I’m sure no one would argue with me if I say that there is a lack of road signs and warnings. I feelthat when the signs are clearer, prominent and widely available, the behaviour improves as people are repeatedly reminded. One good example is the lack of ’t horn’ signs near places like hospitals. There’s a whole string of hospitals along Kirimandalamawatha (Colombo), and a lot of agitated drivers meandering through the traffic, but nothing to remind them that they should keep a lid on their usual habit of pressing the horn at every opportunity. On the other hand, a lot of government hospitals like Castles Street, Kalubowila hospital etc. come with a ‘dedicated’ bus stop right in front of them. Of course I do not need to explain to you why there should be remindersnearby!
Another basic infrastructural facility we need is boom gates at rail crossings. A lot of train- vehicle collisions occur because there are no proper gates orcolour lights. I remember as a kid how this point was raised and discussed in media after the event of such accidents, and several decades later still we sit and listen to the newsreader explaining the tragic nature of the most recent collision. Have we tried enough to do something about it? In many countries, separation of roads and train tracks (called as grade separation in some countries) is carried out asit’s difficult to manage them at the same level, crossing each other.
On the other hand there are many road intersections that are still crying out for colour lights. In certain places, the infrastructure is available but aren’t utilised properly. One such example that I can point out is at the Nugegodajunction. Traffic lights are available; probably a lot of tax payer money was spent on it. But they are not used; amberlights just keep blinking at all times, leaving the drivers and the pedestrians to sort out their paths. It’s a busy junction and this none use of lights where drivers are given the option of using their judgement to decide when to cross roads is an open invitation for accidents. I myself have faced a couple of close calls there.
Although many complain about the Police, I think that there is a limit to what they can offer. For example, you can’t expect the Police to control vehicle speed all the time at all the places when speed limits are not clearly displayed. When a new driver obtainstheir licence, I think they are told of the acceptable speed limits in and outside towns, but who really remembers if you took it few decades ago? These have to be reminded all the time. In Australia for example, on roads, speed limits are reminded to a degree that it becomes headache! In fact, I feel that imposing fines on people for speeding is not proper when they are not clearly instructed on the speed limits prevailing in that area.
Once I wrote about an incident where I was driving outside Colombo and was booked by a traffic policeman for a minor offense. I accepted the mistake and was happy to pay the fine. The difficult part was that you have to pick up the fine note from the Police station, and then pay the fine at a post office and finally pick up the license from the same police station in the area that you were booked in. If someone from Matara was fined in Anuradhapura he has to go to Anuradhapura yet again just to pick up the licence. That is actually double fining! It costs valuable time and money that could have been used for something more productive. It also encourages bribing just to evade the hassle. Then we blame the poor policemen, when in fact we have created an environment for people to behave that way.
The other thing that goes hand in hand with infrastructure is facilities. Again, a personal experience. A policeman stopped me once and wanted to tax me for having a ‘too dark’ tint on the front shutters. I argued for almost half an hour with him, wasting his time and mine. But why? I felt it was a light enough tint and he thought its dark enough. He didn’t have a way to measure it to prove it. And besides the law itself isn’t clear. If you ask five different people, they all have five different takes on what the rule is. The policeman in this case told me that no tint can be used, when right there in front of our eyes vehicles pass-by with all shades of tints. He couldn’t show me what exactly the law is. Now, can’t the Police department do something about making this information publicly available? or at leastprovide this information to the Policemen on duty so that he can show that to the offenders? How are we to respect thePolice and the law if no one knows for sure what’s acceptable and what’s not.
It shouldn’t be about asking people to behave well, but it should be about creating an environment where things are clear, instructed which will then slowly shift the mindset of the people to behave better.
Traffic and Public Transport
About traffic, a lot of above things lead to increasing traffic jams. If the infrastructure is betterand smooth, the vehicle flow improves. This is proven in many places in the Colombo city with the recent improvements, and this can be taken to suburban areas as well as outstations.
Also, I may have written before as well, the reason to have so many private vehicles on the road in Sri Lanka is the weakness of public transport. In developed cities like New York, London, Sydney and Melbourne, people irrespective of their social level, income level or job, use public transport. Busses, trains and trams. But in Sri Lanka, whoever can slightly afford a car wants to buy a car and use the car for regular travel. In developed cities, people may have cars, but for regular travel like going to work daily, they use public transport. That reduces the number of vehicles on the road. Less costly.Less environment pollution. In Sri Lanka, public transport is not that broad and they are not necessarily up to standards to be accepted by all segments of the society.
For example, after the Britishesleft, our train network has not broadened. More and more people now settle down in suburbs of Colombo like Battaramulla, Kaduwela and Piliyandala, but there are no train lines for these areas. I don’t think it’s possible for government to venture into these massive projects alone. But why can’t the government allow private sector with local or foreign investments do it? Of course it will have to have a revenue model where people pay a reasonable amount. And I am quite certain Sri Lankans are ready to pay for what is reasonable. Southern highway prices and income is a good example.
In most countries, busses look similar. In Sri Lanka, private busses don’t have a uniform colour. The good behaviour can’t be pushed, you have to create an environment for that, and these are the small things that matter. Introducing a uniform is good move in this regard and that has been fairly well implemented.
I will end todays by repeating this line, "The good behaviour can’t be pushed, you have to create an environment for that"
See you next week
If you have any feedback or would like to participate in a Catalyst-Catch-up interview, please drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be back with the column next week.
See you then!
Yasas Vishuddhi Abeywickrama is a professional with significant experiences. In 2011 he was recognised as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) in Sri Lanka. Yasas has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from University of Colombo and a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship & Innovation from Swinburne University in Australia. He has worked in the USA, UK, Sri Lanka & Australia and being trained in the USA & Malaysia. He is currently involved in the training organisation, Lanka BPO Academy (www.lankabpoacademy.lk). Yasas is also an Executive Council Member of the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL – www.cssl.lk). Apart from this column, he is a regular resource person for ‘Ape Gama’ program of FM Derana (Sunday 3-5pm). Yasas is happy to answer your relevant questions – email him at email@example.com .
What’s Sri Lanka’s best overseas Test win?
Last Updated May 22 2013 | 10:58 pm