Chennai holds the dubious record of topping road accident death charts in the state year after year. The figures released by the Transport and Road Safety Commissioner for January of this year shows that Chennai registered 689 accidents, the most among the 32 districts. It also led in terms of fatalities with 114 deaths, though there was a marginal decline in the death toll from the same time period last year.
Various efforts have been undertaken by the state and citizens to address road safety. Late last year, the State Traffic Planning Cell worked with researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, to identify traffic black spots in the city. This endeavour was to help identify high risk areas and make necessary interventions to reduce the possibility of accidents in these spots.
Adding to these efforts is an initiative by several corporates and NGOs — the Chennai Road Safety Council, which aims to make OMR safe for the many commuters and pedestrians who traverse its streets every day.
The road safety council was formed following a roundtable consultation among interested corporates and NGOs who wished to take up a pressing cause. Aarti Madhusudan, Consultant, iVolunteer speaks of the reason for the coming together of various organisations. “We have 6-7 corporates who are part of the initiative. The reason road safety was chosen as an issue that needs addressing was because it’s the biggest concern in OMR where a lot of the organisations are located.”
The members of the road safety council have been sending in volunteers to key junctions in OMR for two hours during peak hour traffic in the morning to educate and spread awareness about road safety, traffic rules and safe driving practices. The volunteers interact with motorists at signals and pedestrians on the sidewalk and junctions. They do not perform the role of traffic policemen but act as Good Samaritans who help people understand the dangers that lurk in our streets and how to safeguard themselves from it.
“Though members of the road safety council have diverse backgrounds, their common agenda has been to make the streets safer for all. The volunteers themselves understand how unsafe our roads are as they participate in such an exercise and are able to communicate that to the people effectively. We are looking to get more organisations involved in the campaign across the city”, says Aarti.
Scope of activities
For Gazal Raina, CSR Lead, Ford, the decision of the organisation to be part of the council feels a natural fit. “Over the last decade Ford has taken up the cause of improving road safety on a war footing. We aim to educate not just our employees but are also creating public awareness on the need to follow safety norms. Our Ford on the Road campaign focusses on interacting with everyone using the road and re-enforcing simple safety measures plus calling out the dangers of distracted driving, not wearing a helmet and so on. Ford volunteers are committed to work towards making OMR a safer place,” she said.
Employees of the member organisations of the road safety council receive intensive training from NGOs who have been working on road safety, or others who have already been trained by the latter. Training encompasses basics of road safety, traffic rules, concepts such as safe standing spots and blind spots. They then take the message to the various junctions they are stationed at through the course of their participation.
A volunteer may help a pedestrian looking to cross the road wait for the right moment and check if the pedestrian crossings are open. They may also gently remind vehicles that overshoot the stop line at signals to check their position in order to allow room for pedestrians to cross the road.
Volunteers tread a fine balance between getting the message across while being sensitive to the time constraints and charged nature of the setting. Gazal says that the approach is more about inculcation of the right habits than about chiding offending parties.
“The volunteers are trained to understand the pain points at various junctions and what they can do in their capacity. They are provided stringent orientation by trainers already trained in the modules. The campaign aims to supplement the system through awareness than enforcement. It’s a Munna Bhai philosophy of positive reinforcement than reprimand for change.”
While reckless driving has been a source of accidents across the city, initiatives such as the road safety council hope to change the attitudes of motorists and pedestrians while simultaneously imparting useful knowledge that will help safeguard them and create safer roads.