Traffic department making a come back


I HAVE written many articles in the past about the need for clear traffic department rules and their strict implementation. I have come out in defense, repeatedly, in favor of the Saher system, an automated system for the management of traffic via e-systems covering major cities in Saudi Arabia. I have engaged in endless discussions with those who condoned flouting of traffic rules, overlooked speeding and other rules in favor of safety of drivers. I have also engaged in endless discussions with violators, who love speeding and see it as a proof of manhood by riding the thrill of being in the fast lane and driving against traffic directions and challenging authority by running through traffic lights; and the driver is an extra macho-man if he commits these violations in front of traffic officials.

Traffic violators have spread terror in our streets and the evidence of this is the increasing number of fatalities and injuries taking place every year. Apart from the number being very high compared to the population the family’s pain is accompanied by the massive drain of our country’s resources with the government spending billions of riyals in medical treatment for the victims of road accident. While I took issue with the violators, I similarly, strongly criticized the traffic department for not implementing their rules effectively and enforcing their authority on the streets. Over the years, their presence was not felt and their safety campaigns proved to be a useless exercise and a yearly habit without any goal. The situation had gotten so bad that I am sure that many of us would have a story of near death experience on our roads to tell, and invariably every experience would have resulted by the person defying traffic rules.

In the past it seemed as if the traffic department’s soft approach of educating drivers on following rules and safety lectures was lost on public, especially the youth, who felt defying authority was a must to earn their youthful spurs. Small, unchecked violations slowly became bigger, such that many were seen doing drifting shows in the middle of the road. A famous clip, shot many years ago and that was viral, showed a traffic unit being chased out by a group of youth from a drifting site. Drifters were challenging authority to a level that they were ramming the traffic police car from the back as he was leaving the area. These were all dangerous signs that serious steps needed to be taken against violators.

And it is heartening to see that the ‘red’ light has been shown by the traffic department to stop and desist from violating rules or be ready to be penalized. The good news is that the traffic department is making a come back in reinforcing their authority and cracking down on violators. And they are hitting the violators where it hurts most — their purse. Although, this may sound cruel to many, but the gripe ‘I’ve to pay a fine’ is music to my ears when I hear my friends tell me of the ‘fine’ pickle they have landed in. They relate with astonishment that they have received a violation for not wearing a seatbelt, making a wrong turn or for using a cell phone while driving. Their reaction to receiving fines for these violations is still utterly unbelievable. Instead of saying they would reform, they state that they did not see a police car or notice an officer when they were caught violating, which means secret eyes were watching.

Recently the traffic department took major steps in implementing automated systems to detect two major violations that were not dealt with in the past. One is seatbelt, which is for the safety of the drivers, and the other one is using a cell phone while driving, which is a major cause of accident and deaths. And this has struck fear in many of the drivers, who have begun following rules to some extent. Many would have had a similar experience to mine where a driver rear-ends you because he was busy messaging or talking on the phone. The irony is that the driver instead of accepting his mistake berated me for stopping suddenly. But with the rules tightening, I hope these sorts of accidents are a thing of the past.

Rules without strict implementation are useless. People had lost hope when the traffic department showed leniency toward wearing seatbelt despite it being a No. 1 safety requirement and was strongly advocated. The same rules of fining drivers, who throw garbage out of their car windows, is a rule that has been written down but not implemented. But now the traffic department is coming up with new rules and at the same time taking steps in implementing them immediately. Even existing rules are being invoked and people, who had a free run, are now running into obstacles thrown up by these rules. The message they are sending out is that there is no turning back and violators will be crushed.

The automatic system is sure to strike fear in the hearts of violators, but at the same time we need to see continuing police presence on the road, the same way we see it now. The highway patrol officials between cities are totally relying on Saher cameras and their presence is not felt, except in one checkpoint. They should be heavily present to detect violators also in surprise, not designated, locations on the highways to strengthen the traffic control along with Saher. The presence of traffic officials on the streets will not only strike fear in the heart of violators but also warm the hearts of rules-abiding people in seeing the traffic rules being reinforced.

We have now passed the stage of creating awareness and educating drivers about the rules of the streets. They must have known about these rules when they got their licenses, and the repeated refreshing through campaigns should have ingrained these regulations in them while being reminders against violations. Only stiff actions will deter the reckless and protect the innocent. As for the reckless drivers, the best way to hurt them is to hurt their pockets. They will only learn the hard way when they see the government deducting a good chunk of money every month from their bank accounts.