Friday, December 7, 2007

While we're on the topic of traffic police...

This hits me most whenever I pass these public service hoardings on the road that talk about saving lives by wearing helmets. I remember the time a couple of years ago when newspapers announced that the helmet law would get implemented in Bangalore. And immediately, the question I asked myself was "Why?" So suddenly? Out of the blue? And then it struck me.

As any economist would tell you, there is (there has to be) an obvious correlation between safety-conscious traffic police and helmet manufacturers. If for nothing but the fact that these helmet manufacturing companies exist - What's their (helmet manufacturing companies') future growth plan? To depend on disposable income to rise to an extent where every biker will go out of his way and spend Rs.500 on a precautionary protection? In a country where the same amount will get this price-conscious biker enough petrol to go all the way to Goa? (680 km from Bangalore to Goa - @ a conservative 69 kmpl)

They (traffic police) get the law passed by quoting road kill statistics that would have most probably been caused due to drunken driving and other unavoidable circumstances. It might help to find out how many deaths would have been avoidable if the biker would have worn a helmet but there's hardly a chance anyone even has that data. Maybe the victims weren't even riding two-wheelers... for all you know, they might have been pilgrims going in a bus. Or pedestrians (especially those young rural womenfolk who act like they've been taught to sprint across the road giggling all the way as soon as they spot you coming). But a death is a death is a death - all the better if the dying are innocent and the circumstances oh-so identifiable and avoidable. Hence the "road kill" figure gets quoted - and the law gets passed.

Anyway, the deadline for helmet usage gets set - and obviously, the entire machinery goes into action. Helmet sales shoot up as do the prices. Helmet manufacturers and helmet shops make money - one head at a time. Overnight, enterprising young men set up stalls on highways selling helmets they've brought back from Tamil Nadu in their cars for Rs.250 apiece. Surely a nice slice of this revenue pie does make its way from the helmet manufacturers to some people somewhere in the Traffic Police department.

People buy helmets - which means they have to buy helmet locks. Helmets perched atop mirrors disappear from a once trusting city where people wouldn't think twice before walking away from their unlocked protective headgear. And in true self-fulfilling prophecy Indian style, those who leave their helmets - start coming back to find them missing. And helmet sales continue...

And the real money is still to come... enforcing this law is actually creating an additional revenue stream for the traffic cops on the road - a chance to catch bikers who don't have helmets and make money off of them.

You might call me a cynic but I see what to me seems like the obvious reality...

...however, I wonder, how many people out there see nothing except the caring nature of the lawmakers.